Sweatshop Conditions in Global Garment Factories Efforts to Eliminate these Conditions
Paula Kaufmann - CIH
Paula Kaufmann - CIH
Last week I was fortunate to have attended a series of presentations about eliminating sweatshop conditions in global supply chains at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference. The goal of these presentations was to inform the occupational health and safety professionals about projects that focus on improving health and safety conditions at factories in the developing regions of the world.
I found the reports of the prevalence of horrific work conditions throughout the world very disturbing. It seems like the conditions of the late 1800s and early 1900s (pre-organized labor) in the US and Europe, are currently wide spread in developing countries. Our desire for cheap consumer goods and high corporate profits are fueling these conditions.
On the brighter side, in response to reports of sweatshop conditions, many brand name companies have adopted Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Codes of Conduct. To meet these CSR codes, many multinational or transnational corporations ask their production facilities and contractors to commit to operating under codes through contractual agreements.
However, verifying compliance can be very complex as the supply chain of materials and production can be more of a web than a straight chain. Also, the purchasing corporation often creates requirements on the production facility that are directly opposed to conditions meant to be established by the Codes of Conduct. Examples of these opposing requirements are the use of short-term contracts, tight lead and delivery times, along with the steady reduction in the amount paid for the product. Several of the speakers referred to a schizophrenic business plan because the corporations seem to be split between two attitudes about getting to the buyer.
One alarming fact I learned was that, although it has been more than 15 years since the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Codes of Conduct were adopted by major athletic footwear brands, less than 25% of the workers making the products are working in conditions meet that these codes. This kind of business model seems to work at cross-purposes with the CSR codes of conduct.
As consumers, what can we do about these work conditions for the people who make all the stuff that we buy? Well, one approach is to make informed decisions about what we buy and where we buy it. Unfortunately, I havent seen any clothing tags labeled Made in a socially responsible way. However, there is a lot of information available on the internet, and here are a few of the key organizations and websites that explain how we can help:
Asia Monitor Resource Center www.amrc.org.hk
Business for Social Responsibility www.bsr.org
Business and Human Rights www.business-humanrights.org
Clean Clothes Campaign www.cleanclothes.org
Maquila Solidarity Network www.maquilasolidarity.org
Maquiladora Health & Safety Network www.igc.org/mhssn
China Labor Watch www.chinalaborwatch.org
Better Factories Cambodia www.betterfactories.org