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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.
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.”
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.
Boston Review recently published its Citizen Consumer forum, featuring responses by labor experts, advocates and academics to an article by Dara O’Rourke on ethical consumption. O’Rourke, co-founder of Good Guide and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, weighs the impact of ethical consumerism on the marketplace and discusses some of the tools available to help consumers make smart decisions. Labor advocates – including FLA’s Auret van Heerden, Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium, Juliet Schor of Boston College and others – responded to the article and offered their own perspectives on ethical consumption.
From Auret’s response:
As consumers, we face hundreds of choices each day: What kind of shampoo should I use? Where should I buy a cup of coffee? What brand of shoe is best for my workout?
For most consumers, the choice is automatic; many will select the cheapest option, while others will make their decisions on the basis of habit or social cues. Each of these factors poses barriers to ethical consumption, and NGOs and campaigns have focused on asking consumers to change in order to overcome those barriers.
Of course, NGOs have created some innovative tools to help consumers make ethical purchasing decisions more easily. These types of tools are essential, and many are Web-based so they can be consulted on smart phones. But there is still the problem of how to inform decision making at the point of sale. Activists have tried to guide shoppers by creating labels that should be instantly recognizable. Unfortunately, there is now a proliferation of labels, rankings, scorecards, guidelines, and phone apps that add further complication. And by asking consumers to consider so many issues—environmental health, resource conservation, ethical trade, workers’ rights, human rights, animal rights—we risk making them feel guilty if one of their favorite products falls short. This atmosphere of anxiety and judgment may be part of the reason why only a small percentage of consumers act on their convictions.
If you play out each scenario for making an ethical choice, you quickly realize the difficulties. One option is to research online the products you intend to buy before you go to the store. Possible, but not very practical, and of no help when it comes to the “impulse buy.” A little more likely is that you check labels to see if products have been certified by one of the initiatives that works on the issues that matter to you. Fair trade and organic products are easily identified, as are those that protect endangered species and certain scarce resources, such as ethically harvested woods. Those labels are generally reliable, especially when they deal with one standard, but the consumer can easily zone out when there are competing labels.
Click here to read the rest of the article and access the forum.
This is a guest post from FLA Participating Company, Patagonia. It was written by Vincent Stanley, co-author with Yvon Chouinard of The Responsible Company, to be published August 2012.
Bill McKibben made an interesting point a few years back when he compared the yields of factory farming and organic or low-input farming. Factory farming (with subsidies) yields more dollars per acre but an organic field yields more food.
Factory farming requires industrial simplicity and heavy engineering: a few hundred acres of straight-rowed crops of the same variety, requiring vehicles as expensive as Ferraris and copious amounts of oil. A farmer of ten acres really has to know and walk the land, to rely on intimate knowledge of the land to tease out more of its fecundity and value. He or she has to know where one plant thrives in another’s shade, where to intercrop plants with roots of different lengths, note whether the earthworms are thriving. One type of farming exhausts the land, the other takes advantage of – takes its part in – the natural world.
We would argue that the second type of farming, low-input, small-scale, more than the factory field, represents good, sound business for now and the future. This is counterintuitive for those of us who grew up to do business in the industrial age, with its emphasis on streamlining and scalability. But the time has come for business people to understand ourselves as deeply a part of nature and to walk our fields – to change our practices so that they become less exhaustive and more intensive and productively alive, to enable our grandchildren to inherit a world we would care to live in.
To walk our fields, we also have to come to know the ground of our suppliers and customers – and we have to work in partnership with everyone who makes up a part of our business community.
Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative grew out of a simple recycling program: our aim over a five-year period was to make all Patagonia products recyclable at the end of their life, in the spirit of Bill McDonough’s cradle-to-cradle idea: make every used-up product into a new one, preferably of equal value. About halfway in, we began to realize we were working backwards. We shouldn’t have to recycle what should never have been made. Read the rest of this entry »
Across the globe, millions of men and women migrate in order to find jobs. Many of them provide for their families by working in factories to manufacture clothing and footwear for some of the largest international brands. While some of these workers are successful in finding suitable employment, many others face difficulties ranging from homesickness to bad working conditions, and may even be forced into trafficking – otherwise known as modern-day slavery.
The FLA hosted a forum for affiliates, students and faculty at the University of Notre Dame on October 3, to discuss migration and modern-day slavery in supply chains. The event included a panel on the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, and Mufaddal Ezzy, Policy Advisor for the California State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, joined Marsha Dickson (Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Fashion & Apparel Studies, University of Delaware, and President of Educators for Socially Responsible Apparel Business), Marcela Manubens (Senior Vice-President, Global Human Rights and Social Responsibility, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation), and Lejo Sibbel (FLA) to discuss the implications of the Act on workers, businesses and the state of California. Read the rest of this entry »