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.
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.
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 »
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.
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 »