Investigation Report Published on Labor Rights Allegations at Style Avenue Factory

On October 12, 2011, the Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights released a report titled, “Dressing Babies in Sweatshop Clothing: Dallas Cowboys, Ohio State and a Creepy Business.” The report alleged a number of noncompliances at the Style Avenue factory in El Salvador, including harassment or abuse and forced overtime. Two collegiate licensees registered with the FLA – Outerstuff and College Kids – were sourcing from the factory at the time of this report. Outerstuff and College Kids commissioned FLA-accredited monitoring organization, GMIES, to investigate the allegations. GMIES has completed its investigation and prepared a report, which is now available on our website. During the investigation, GMIES identified noncompliances and additional risks of noncompliance, including:

  • violations of the exercise of workers’ freedom of association;
  • harassment of workers;
  • hours of work that exceeded the local norm;
  • high temperatures in the workplace;
  • water that did not meet the Salvadoran potability standard and was not apt for human consumption;
  • delays in payment of contributions to the Social Security and Pension Funds Carriers system; and
  • failure to grant paid vacations.

Read the full report and remediation plan here.

Outerstuff and College Kids collaborated with GMIES and the FLA on a remediation plan, which Style Avenue management has agreed to implement immediately. The remediation plan focuses on creating sustainable improvement at the factory, and the FLA will monitor progress over the next six months. At that time, FLA will conduct an independent verification of the implementation of the remediation plan and publish a report.

This case is a good example of stakeholders working together to quickly address issues and protect workers. Stay tuned for more information.

Advertisements

Common Ground: Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative and the FLA

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.

The Common Threads Initiative asks consumers to recycle Patagonia products

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 »


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 »


FLA Releases Enhanced Code of Conduct & Compliance Benchmarks

FLA Board discusses Code of Conduct enhancements

Earlier today, FLA held a live stakeholder webinar to announce its enhanced Workplace Code of Conduct and Compliance Benchmarks.  Approved by the FLA Board of Directors on June 14, the revised Code strengthens protection of workers’ rights and reflects lessons learned during implementation of the former Code over the past decade.  Enhancements include:

 

  1. Requirements to establish human resource management policies and procedures along the entire factory employment lifecycle, from recruitment and hiring to terms and conditions of employment, administration of compensation, work rules and discipline, and termination and retrenchment.
  2. A limit for regular weekly hours of work.
  3. A requirement that employers, working with the FLA, take appropriate actions that seek to progressively realize a level of compensation that meets workers’ basic needs and provides some discretionary income.
  4. Mitigation of negative impacts that the workplace has on the environment.

Please click here to review the following materials:

  • The complete 2011 Code of Conduct and Compliance Benchmarks.
  • A summary of revisions to the Code of Conduct and Compliance Benchmarks.
  • FAQs about the enhanced Code and Benchmarks.

Download today’s press release about the enhanced Code of Conduct and contact FLA staff with any questions.


Using the U.N. Global Compact forum to support human rights

The United Nations Global Compact recently launched the Human Rights and Business Dilemma Forum, an initiative designed to stimulate constructive discussion about perceived dilemmas that socially responsible multinational companies may face in their efforts to respect and support human rights when operating in emerging economies.

The Forum features tools and case studies to help companies ensure that human rights are being respected in their operations throughout the world.  It was developed in alignment with the framework proposed by John Ruggie, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights.

According to the Forum, one of the biggest dilemmas facing multinational corporations is freedom of association:  “How does a company respect the right to freedom of association in its operations and supply chain when its operations…or suppliers are based in countries where such rights are heavily restricted…?”

Because freedom of association is essential to ensuring respect for other fundamental rights at work, it is imperative for companies to find solutions to this important labor issue.  The Forum offers examples, suggestions and resources for companies to overcome the freedom of association dilemma, including a recommendation to “develop grievance mechanisms for workers who do not have access to trade unions or workers’ representatives.”  One such mechanism mentioned in the Forum is the Fair Labor Association’s Third Party Complaint (3PC) procedure, which serves as a channel through which any individual or organization can confidentially report a serious labor abuse at any factory affiliated with FLA.  FLA’s work through 3PCs has helped to bring about positive improvements in the lives of workers. Lodging a complaint with the FLA has made a difference, prompting investigations and ensuring remediation at dozens of factories across the globe.

Check out the Human Rights Business Dilemma Forum to participate in the discussion and learn more.


Creating the Future of Codes of Conduct

It has become very fashionable to criticize Codes of Conduct and monitoring, and to hold them responsible for all sorts of unpleasant realities in workplace conditions – from sub-minimum wages to excessive overtime. At one level, such criticisms fail to recognize that wage and hour issues predate the wave of codes and monitoring that arose in the mid-1990s. In fact, codes were a reaction to such basic labor law violations. At a deeper level, however, the criticism fundamentally represents a misunderstanding of the nature of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement and the limits and possibilities of code implementation. Let us remind ourselves of how we got here.

Government agencies in many, many jurisdictions around the world – from Manhattan to Mumbai – were failing to enforce their labor laws. Labor-management relations were breaking down and the coverage of collective agreements was shrinking. This breakdown in labor market regulation meant that enterprises could do pretty much as they pleased, and left with the choice, too many did the wrong thing and cut costs at the expense of workers. Civil society organizations responded to these regulatory failures and consequent abuses with the only weapon they had – information. Using the Internet, they mobilized public opinion nationally and internationally in order to pressure companies into doing the right thing. Multinational brand names were obviously the most sensitive to such public exposure, and so a new form of regulation emerged in which civil society organizations use information to oblige brands to enforce labor standards at their supplier facilities. Thus, private actors stepped in to replace public agencies. These ad hoc responses obviously needed to be more consistent and global, and consequently codes of conduct were adopted and implemented worldwide and enforced through audits. Read the rest of this entry »