FLA’s Auret van Heerden Discusses Foxconn

This is a post by Auret van Heerden, President & CEO of the Fair Labor Association. He recently appeared on CNN to discuss ongoing issues facing workers at Foxconn and how Apple’s recent admission to the FLA will help improve working conditions throughout the supply chain.

Since Apple disclosed its supplier list and the results of its internal audits, reactions have varied from encouragement, to skepticism, to shock. And yes – the very idea of people being injured or killed while working to manufacture the products we buy is appalling. We should be outraged by stories of workers being abused or exploited. But after countless reports over the years about the way workers are treated in factories, it is time to move beyond shock and start actually doing something about it.

We’re well past pretending supply chain issues don’t exist in everything we buy – from clothing and shoes to candy and electronics. There is no perfect product; Apple’s own audits of its suppliers reveal this. If we can ever hope to truly become “ethical consumers” – the kinds of people who won’t settle for one or two “ethically produced” items, but instead demand that everything we buy is produced in a way that respects workers’ rights – we need to know it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If we don’t know what is happening behind the scenes in the factories and on the farms in product supply chains, we will never be able to address the issues and make positive changes.

Ethical consumption starts with transparency. In other words, we can’t take action if we don’t have an open and honest discussion about the realities workers face every day. That’s why we should be encouraged by Apple’s disclosure and willingness to embrace transparency. Apple is not the first company to open up its supply chain to independent assessments, and it is not the first company to publish the results of its internal audits. But it is the first technology company to do so. It’s time for others to do the same.

At the Fair Labor Association, we have worked with dozens of companies over the years to identify issues throughout their supply chains and remediate them in a lasting way. This has not been easy, and clearly there is still a lot of work to be done. One of the best things to come out of these efforts, however, has been a shift in the way companies think about corporate social responsibility. The brands participating in the FLA know that they cannot hide behind promises and well-crafted statements. FLA-affiliated companies have endorsed and promoted the concept of transparency, and know that every time the FLA conducts an assessment of one of their factories, the results will be published. Opening up a company to this type of public scrutiny is hard for managers who like to maintain the prerogative, but the smart ones know that it’s necessary in order to move forward in a credible way.

By opening its doors and admitting the challenges and hurdles it has to face, Apple has taken a necessary first step. As consumers, it is our responsibility to keep the pressure on all of the other brands that have yet to take action. Punishing the companies that are embracing transparency could have a chilling effect on others who are considering taking the plunge. Instead, we should be asking why there are still so many companies who are not disclosing their suppliers and conditions in those facilities. We cannot wait another month or year for other companies to catch up. The longer we’re in the dark, the more dangerous things become for the people who make a living by working to produce what we buy. Let’s hold all companies accountable, and not just a select few.

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Discussing Fair Wages in China

Representatives of major brands, the Chinese Government, and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) gathered in Beijing on January 8 to discuss a new book examining wage trends at the global level. The book, Fair Wages – Strengthening Corporate Social Responsibility, sheds light on wage inequalities and unfairness facing workers around the world. It was authored by Dr. Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, professor of corporate social responsibility at Sciences Po in Paris, who is responsible for wage practices at the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The book launch was chaired by Mr. Zhang Junfeng, Deputy Director of the Institute of International Labor and Social Security in Beijing, and brought in the perspectives of brands, suppliers, and Chinese trade unions. H&M, an FLA Participating Company, and Chengfeng, an FLA Participating Supplier, spoke about the need to support fair wages. Participants called for transparency from factories and buyers on wage expectations and costs, support from the local government, and the need to set long-term objectives in wage policies. Auret van Heerden, President and CEO of the FLA, opened the event by introducing three key concepts: responsibility, sustainability and fair wages for a fair society. These ideas were echoed throughout the day as participants discussed the way forward toward more equitable wages in factories in China.

Professor Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead highlighted some key issues, which sparked an engaging discussion between the speakers and the audience:

  • The reasons behind, and the trend of, growing wage disparity, with the gap between the rich and the poor becoming only more polarized in most economies.
  • The growing debate around the legal minimum wage – what does it mean as compared to living wage, and what is the appropriate level for minimum wage?
  • Pay systems, and the benefits of mixed payment systems rather than the typical piece-rate system employed in most factories worldwide.
  • Insufficient overtime payment and lack of transparency in reporting hours worked.

Visit www.fair-wage.org for more information, and learn more about the Fair Wage Approach.


Apple Joins FLA

The Fair Labor Association today announced that Apple will join the FLA as a Participating Company, effective immediately. The FLA will independently assess facilities in Apple’s supply chain and report detailed findings on the FLA website. Apple becomes the first technology company to join the Association as a Participating Company.

FLA Participating Companies agree to uphold the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct throughout their supply chains and commit to the FLA’s Principles of Fair Labor and Responsible Sourcing. In 2011, the FLA worked with Apple to assess the impact of Apple’s training programs which help raise awareness of labor rights and standards among workers in its supply chain. Like all new affiliates, Apple will align its compliance program with FLA obligations within the next two years.

“We found that Apple takes supplier responsibility seriously and we look forward to their participation in the Fair Labor Association,” said Auret van Heerden, FLA’s President and CEO. “We welcome Apple’s commitment to greater transparency and independent oversight, and we hope its participation will set a new standard for the electronics industry.”

Read more.


Nestlé Taps Fair Labor Association to Map Cocoa Supply Chain

Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, has partnered with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to assess its cocoa supply chain in West Africa and to identify whether children are working on the farms. With the cocoa harvest fast approaching, this project will launch in December as Nestlé prepares its application to join the FLA as a Participating Company.

Beginning in January, the FLA will send a team of independent assessors to Côte d’Ivoire to map the cocoa supply chain. With approximately 800,000 cocoa farms in the country, companies have struggled to establish where their cocoa comes from and under what conditions it was farmed. The FLA’s methodology will bring consistency and transparency to the process, providing Nestlé with the information needed to eliminate instances of child labor in its supply chain. As part of the project, the FLA will publish an assessment report along with Nestlé’s corrective action plan to address any labor-related issues identified during the investigation. The FLA will then track the company’s progress in implementing the plan and verify remediation.

The FLA has been active in the agricultural sector since 2004, and has helped greatly reduce the risks of child labor and other labor rights violations on farms in several countries, including India, Pakistan, Mali and Romania. Read the FLA’s statement about the project and watch the BBC report.


Addressing root causes of excessive overtime

This is a guest post from Korhan Tinaztepe, Assessment Manager for the Fair Labor Association based in Istanbul.

On October 19 and 20, the FLA and Business Social Compliance Initiative hosted a joint workshop in Istanbul, Turkey. The workshop – titled “Working Toward Improving Social Compliance” – brought together brands and suppliers to discuss excessive overtime, which is a chronic problem for workers in the garment sector and is especially prominent in Turkey. Over 60 participants joined the conference each day to discuss the root causes of Hours of Work compliance violations during factory assessments.

BSCI/FLA Training

FLA & BSCI staff conduct workshop on Hours of Work in Istanbul, Turkey

Root causes for excessive overtime can be traced back to a lack of policies and procedures related to hours of work, and poor planning and time management at the brand and/or factory level. Evidence from assessments and field reports over the years have shown that excessive overtime is hazardous to workers and can limit productivity at the factory level. Unfortunately, however, solutions to limiting hours of work tend to be only temporary because the root causes are not being addressed. Read the rest of this entry »


FLA, U.S. Advocates Call for Protection of Children in Uzbekistan

On Wednesday, the FLA joined other labor and human rights groups, American trade unions, investors, brands and retailers in appealing to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the eve of her trip to Central Asia.  With as many as 1.5 million children being removed from school and forced to work in the cotton harvest, the group called on Secretary Clinton to raise with Uzbek President Islam Karimov the need to permit the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to enter Uzbekistan to inspect conditions in the cotton fields. Read the full article from the Cotton Campaign, and see the full text of our letter to Secretary Clinton, below. Read the rest of this entry »


Examining the Impact of Long Hours on Factory Workers

FLA’s research, assessments and surveys over the past two years confirm that excessive working hours have a negative impact on workers, often resulting in physical and psychological stress for workers and increased worker turnover. FLA surveys in China found that an estimated 50 percent of workers in the garment industry and 80 percent in electronics manufacturing work more than 60 hours per week, and an estimated 80 percent regularly work more than 7 days in a row.  Even more alarming is the fact that 20 percent sometimes work more than 24 consecutive days without a day of rest.

One argument some have used in defense of excessive working hours is that Chinese factory workers want to work more hours. This argument, however, does not paint the full picture:  45 percent of 1,766 recently-surveyed workers say that their salary would not be sufficient if they did not work more than 60 hours per week. In fact, 40 percent said their salaries were not sufficient to cover basic needs, such as education, health care and housing. In addition, 50 percent of workers reported that excessive working hours make them feel isolated and more prone to sickness.  Many said that they did not get to spend enough time with their families. Only 20 percent of workers felt satisfied with their job.

Shanghai_HOW_event

Brand, factory and supplier representatives gather at an FLA event to discuss solutions to problems caused by long work hours.

Data obtained by FLA shows that those who spend an excessive number of hours at work are eight times more likely to be unhappy with their job than those with regular hours. In addition, they are six times more likely to show signs of poor mental health.  In short: long working hours create risks to workers’ wellbeing and undermine factories’ retention efforts and long-term productivity. Because of the harmful impact that long hours have on workers, the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct, which is based on international labor standards, states that “the regular work week shall not exceed 48 hours…Employers shall allow workers at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every seven-day period…[and] the sum of regular and overtime hours in a week shall not exceed 60 hours.”

On September 20, FLA Shanghai hosted a networking event and brief workshop for suppliers and brands operating in or sourcing from factories in China. Session facilitators asked participants to consider how to improve relations at hypothetical “Factory A,” which has high working hours. Read the rest of this entry »