A Closer Look at Fixed-Duration Contracts and the Cambodian Garment Industry

The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School recently released a report titled “How Widespread Use of Fixed-Duration Contracts Threatens Cambodian Workers and the Cambodian Garment Industry.”  According to the report, the increased use of fixed-duration contracts (FDCs) in Cambodia:

  • results in increased worker insecurity;
  • threatens the enforcement of workers’ rights under domestic and international law;
  • presents obstacles to increased labor productivity;
  • jeopardizes Cambodia’s reputation as a country committed to improving conditions for workers; and
  • increases the threat of a major breakdown of industrial relations and creates a potential provocation for massive strikes.

According to FLA Board member Jim Silk, who directs the Lowenstein Clinic: “The Cambodian government has been considering amending the Labor Law to ease restrictions on fixed-duration contracts. The country’s apparel industry is already facing heightened international scrutiny because of the mass firings of workers who participated in a strike last year over low wages. One of the main competitive advantages of the Cambodian garment industry is its reputation for progress on protecting workers’ rights, so it is important to understand the human rights consequences of using FDCs and the impact that permitting their expansion could have on Cambodia’s competitiveness.” Read more at law.yale.edu. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bridging Divides for the Greater Good: Taking a lesson from President Clinton’s vision for reforming U.S. apparel sourcing

This is a guest post by Kathryn “Kitty” Higgins, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the convening of the Apparel Industry Partnership – which has evolved into the Fair Labor Association.  Ms. Higgins served as Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor and is currently Chair of the Fair Labor Association Board of Directors.

Kathryn "Kitty" Higgins

As Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor in the 1990s, I was acutely aware of the highly-publicized cases of workers’ rights abuses occurring in factories across the globe. While Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line became a symbol for all that was wrong with international sourcing by U.S. apparel manufacturers, the crisis was much bigger than any one brand. Millions of men and women were working in deplorable conditions, producing some of the most popular clothing and footwear in the United States and Europe. I will always think of that time as a turning point for consumers who, no longer blind to the injustices of sweatshop labor, began to demand change.

President Bill Clinton recognized this demand, but also acknowledged that the issue was much too complex and widespread to be solved by any one company, or even by the U.S. government. With this in mind, he convened an unlikely group – leading brands, non-governmental organizations, and trade union representatives – and challenged them to solve this crisis. The diverse group, christened the Apparel Industry Partnership, gathered at the White House on August 2, 1996, amid predictions that parties with such seemingly conflicting interests would be incapable of working together for the greater good.

A number of critics and skeptics refused to work together and walked away. But many more stayed and, over the years, this growing coalition of companies, NGOs and other concerned parties, including colleges and universities, has continued to work together. The progress they have made, despite their differences, has engendered a mutual trust and respect that is steadily moving them closer to achieving a common goal: better conditions and respect for workers worldwide. What began as a small group of key players rapidly evolved to include dozens of others, such as H&M, the University of Notre Dame, and the Global Fairness Initiative, just to name a few.

The group, known today as the Fair Labor Association (FLA), agreed on a framework of principles – a workplace code of conduct – and began monitoring factories to ensure that internationally recognized labor standards were being upheld. At that time, the approach seemed simple: hold companies accountable for conditions in the factories where they sourced their products. Under that mandate, hundreds of factory audits were conducted and re-conducted, and factories were compelled to comply with established standards. Significant gains were made in many factories over the decade that followed, including trade union recognition; limits on overtime and child labor; and improved health and safety standards.

Unfortunately, while progress was made, many of the positive changes implemented immediately following the audits did not stick. Read the rest of this entry »