The panel addressed a lot of issues, including the (potential) impact of consumer boycotts and buycotts. I called on consumers to remember they are more than consumers, and to also consider/imagine alternative ways to support workers.
The event was recorded, and I’ve embedded it below for you to check out.
During the discussion, I mentioned a website I had used to calculate ‘how many slaves’ work for me. I mentioned this was an interesting tool to help consumers think through linkages, but also voiced concern that context was lacking. I realise that I never mentioned the actual name of the site, so in case you’re interested and not already familiar, here it is. Bangladeshi labour rights activist Kalpona Akter shared some thoughts on this tool with Design and Violence last year, here.
On the panel with me was Kathy Galloway, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, Karen Bowman, Director of Procurement at University of Edinburgh and Mei-Ling McNamara, a PhD Student in School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at University of Edinburgh. Chairing was Michelle Brown from the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability.
We would love to hear your thoughts on modern slavery in general, but also in the unique context of the global fashion and apparel industry. Please share in the comments, or with us on Facebook or Twitter.
(Update: The video embedded below is seemingly no longer available to view online. The video depicted a number of children working in India, sewing clothing for the H&M and Alexander Wang collection at machines in a factory. At the end of the video, one boy declared how happy he was to work on this line. To be clear, the video was not real, it was a spoof.)
Have you seen this satire on the H&M x Alexander Wang collaboration?
The spoof, produced by Dandy Diary and filmed in Mumbai, was meant to connect Alexander Wang’s reported association with garment worker grievances to Dandy Diary’s perception of manufacturing practices in H&M global supply chains. In 2012, Wang was sued by former employees claiming to have worked 80 hour weeks without overtime pay, in a garment factory in New York.
We are interested in your thoughts on child labour * in fashion and apparel production, to assess your need/want for related educational resources.
For this reason, we’d be grateful if you would consider completing this short poll:
*For the purpose of this survey, ‘child labour’ is defined in accordance with the International Labour Organization (ILO) definition:
A worker’s sign demanding $160/month minimum wages | Image taken at a rally by Mu Sochua, a Cambodian opposition party MP [click the photo to go to her blog].
Last week, Mary reported on the violent protests in Cambodia which included garment workers who have been demonstrating against a proposed minimum wage increase to US$100/month. The workers have asked for US$160/month which still falls short of the living wage proposed by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance [see the report entitled Latest Asia Floor Wage figure in Local Country Currencies (2012)] of KHR 1178814.60/month which is equivalent to something between US$283-294/month, depending on the exchange rate.
It is important to add that these demonstrations are not limited to wage issues. As I wrote on January 4th on the SA facebook page:
“Keep in mind that this is not just about wages but also stems from a complicated alliance between the numerous unions & the opposition party to challenge Hun Sen’s 28-year rule. This is part of an ongoing movement kickstarted by the July 2013 election which the opposition believes was rigged. They have since boycotted parliament, calling for new elections in daily rallies in Phnom Penh. And in the middle of all this politics is the fashion supply chain.“
For a bit more on the background to these protests, listen to the following conversation from the CBC’s As it happens (Jan. 3rd):
Here are some updates specific to the garment industry angle of this story:
Today’s news reports (see also here) confirm that the protests are suspended (for now) as unions advised workers to go back to work. Union leaders plan a meeting to regroup and rethink their protest strategy.
Sithi.org uploaded an open letter from some brands to Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, the Council of the Ministers, the Chairman of GMAC and union leaders calling for a peaceful resolution of this conflict and expressing deep concern over the violence writing further that “[o]ur primary concerns are for the security and safety of the workers employed by our suppliers and the long-term stability of the Cambodian garment industry.” The brands added “[w]e believe that the only way to resolve this dispute is to cease all forms of violence, and for stakeholders to enter into good faith negotiations, allowing workers to safely return to work without fear of repercussions as soon as possible.” Kudos to the signatory brands: H&M, Gap Inc., Inditex, Adidas Group, Puma, Levi Strauss & Co., and Columbia.
Finally, to add an international political economy dimension to these protests, there is a report (see also here) that details the South Korean embassy’s involvement in back channel dealings pressing the Cambodian government to protect Korean interests. South Korea was the largest investor in Cambodia in 2012.
This story is ongoing and we’ll do our best to continue the updates on a regular basis. In the meantime, keep up with events over our Fb page and our twitter feed.
“It is our hope that, through our short video, we will reach out, inform and encourage people to act in the interests of the children of Uzbekistan.” (Samuel Cooper, Anti-Slavery International)
Anti-Slavery International is calling on the European Parliament to remove preferential trade tariffs with Uzbekistan. Click here for more information and to sign the petition.
Over 60 international retailers have joined forces to boycott Uzbek cotton, publicly stating their commitment to the eradication of forced child labour through the Responsible Sourcing Network, an As You Sow initiative.
Click below to learn more about what’s happening inUzbekistanand to follow our ongoing coverage:
Working in India and Bangladesh, the three year grant will be used by FWF and four partner organizations (SAVE and Cividep, in India, and the AMRF Society and Awaj Foundation in Bangladesh) “to implement innovative new strategies to reduce workplace violence against women in the garment industry.” (FWF)
“The benefits to women of a workplace without violence are clear and immediate, and an issue of respect for fundamental human rights.“ (Erica Van Doorn, Director of Fair Wear Foundation)
According to the Fair Wear Foundation, “[r]ecent research estimates that 60% of women in the garment industry have experienced some form of harassment, verbal abuse or physical abuse. Indiaand Bangladeshboth have legal frameworks to prevent and address workplace violence, however full implementation of these laws in the garment industry has been hampered by several factors, including the complexity of apparel supply chains.” (FWF)
With respect to a living wage on the high street, this is the 5th edition in a series of LCUF reports from LBL.
The findings have ranked Levi Strauss and Gap Inc. with a score of 1 out of 5 (along side H&M, and others), while Zara, Monson and NEXT were found with the highest scores at 3.5 out of 5.
According to LBL, initiatives taking living wage seriously must be grounded by four essential pillars:
Taking a collaborative approach
Worker organizing and freedom of association
Examining commercial factors paying the cost
Rolling it out: developing a route-map for sustaining a living wage
“The fact is that workers do speak out to demand better wages. At best they are often ignored; at worst they are persecuted, threatened, dismissed or harassed. Companies must do more to ensure respect for trade union rights in the quest to provide a living wage for garment workers.” (Labour Behind the Label, Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2011: Pg. 1)
Readers who have followed LBL’s LCUF reports in the past will likely be surprised to see Gap Inc. with such a low score, considering the company received one of the highest grades in the 2009 report. According to LBL:
“Gap plans to work on developing good management and human resource systems with suppliers, which are needed. However, Gap supplied no evidence of plans to translate this work into real wage gains for workers. More worryingly, it states its intention to focus mainly on the achievement of compliance with minimum wages. This shift seems to suggest Gap has given up any plans to work towards providing living wages to workers in its supply chain altogether. We hope this isn’t the case.” (Labour Behind the Label, Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2011: Pg. 28)
Today, we’re playing a game. Read the clues and try to figure out the location before you get to the end of this post.
In this country, children between the ages of 12 and 18 are legally allowed to work long hours in all sorts of hazardous conditions as long as the job is classified as agricultural work. If the farm is classified as a ‘small’ farm, children of any age can work as hired labourers.
Some of the most common jobs include:
picking fruits and vegetables
hoeing cotton and weeding cotton fields
Some common job-related hazards include:
using sharp farm implements such as knives and chainsaws
operating heavy machinery such as tractors and grinders
sexual harassment and violence
exposure to extreme temperatures
repetitive motion injuries
extremely long workhours sometimes without a day off during peak seasons
This country’s Department of Labour estimated that 3% of agricultural workers are children however, this is a flawed measure since it does not include children below the age of 14. Other estimates are as high as 9% of agricultural workers, however, this also does not include undocumented or subcontracted workers and workers working on their own family farms. Farms in this country rely on subcontractors to provide an estimated 15% or more of their workers. These labour contractors mediate the relationship between the growers and the workers. Therefore, the growers often have no contact with their subcontracted labourers. The growers pay a lump sum to the labour contractors who often manage all issues related to wages, transportation to job sites, and pay deductions.
Up to 40% of farm labourers are migrants that move with the seasons. Farm labourers are also ‘overwhelmingly poor’. These patterns of migration and poverty drive many adult labourers to ask their children to work alongside them. The impact on the child’s education can be significant. In some cases, because of the migration with the seasons, children may leave school in early spring and return in the late fall missing a few months each year. One third of child farm labourers drop out of school altogether.
Both adult and child farm workers are often not paid the minimum wage. In some cases, children are paid less than their adult counterparts, in other cases, a legal loophole provides exception for small farms and farms paying a piece-rate [which encourages unsafe work practices since safety equipment often hampers work speed]. Furthermore, overtime pay is not required for agricultural workers.
This country is not mentioned in the US DoL’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labordespite the fact that the legal loopholes for farm work create, reinforce and support conditions which are in clear violation of the ILO’s convention for the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor (no. 182 adopted in 1999). ‘Child’ in this convention is defined as all persons under the age of 18 and the worst forms of child labour includes “work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children (Article 3(d))”. This country was one of the first to ratify this convention and has been very active in promoting and instituting the convention worldwide.
Did I mention that this country is one of the top producers of cotton this year? Most of its cotton is exported to major clothing producers including China [the top destination], Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
A lot of the information in this post is summarized from this report. Thanks to Human Rights Watch for their continuous and unwavering commitment to this issue. This report contains a lot more information that I barely touched upon with enormous detail on the plight of these child farm workers. They also have first hand accounts of the working conditions the children must endure. This report is a must-read if you are interested in learning more about this issue.
Cynthia Castaldo-Walsh’s post on NotGoodEnough.com
This is an excellent overview of the legal loopholes in the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) which allow for these conditions. She also gives a brief description of changes proposed in the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment. This bill was introduced in 2009 and is still being churned through government machinery. You can track what’s happening with the bill here and here.
This post discusses the proposed revisions to federal law by the Department of Labor to better protect child farm workers. In particular, Elk points out how slow the process has been but he does also draw attention to the next resource in the list.
The Department of Labor’s proposed changes
The DoL’s proposed changes to federal law are up for public comment until November 1st and can be found here.
60 Minutes did a short (11 minute) segment about a family weeding cotton in the Texas plains. I strongly suggest it as a way to draw students into a debate on these issues:
[please keep watching beyond the ad in the first few minutes, I promise it’s worth it!]
Special thanks to Grist.org for bringing this issue to our attention. It really made us think about our preconceptions. Sometimes, just because something is “American [or Canadian] made” doesn’t necessarily mean it is responsibly made. Growers may be fulfilling their legal obligations, which is part of their responsibility, yet they are under enormous pressure to provide products at low prices giving them incentive to maintain and perpetuate this system of labour. At the same time, we, as consumers, are also part of the problem by constantly demanding low-priced commodities. But, these low prices do not reflect the real costs of production. These issues are very complicated. There is no easy answer. At the end of it all, someone, somewhere along the line still has to pay the real cost in one way or another.
Some of you may be thinking that you’ve heard of this issue before…nothing new! That’s true, it is not a new concept. Actually, the idea of a living wage [or fair wage, I’m going to use the two terms interchangeably until someone can tell me their exact definitions and how they differ] has been around for a long time. Katrine discussed the Asia Floor Wage Campaign on this very website in 2009. But, long before the Asia Floor Wage Campaign started it’s activities, fair trade products were being sold with the goal of providing a fair wage to producers. So what’s the big deal? Why am I talking about this as though it’s a hot new trend?
Well, there’s been another interesting set of events this year that at first may seem unrelated.
The release of the UN’s long-awaited Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework
The release of the OECD’s newly revised Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Recommendations for Responsible Business Conduct in a Global Context
The release of the FLA’s updated Workplace Code of Conduct
Reading all these statements and the background papers, the conference proceedings and so on that lead to the final product can be a bit tedious. Luckily, I have to do this for my dissertation anyway so, I’ll just summarize the relevant points and briefly explain the significance of these events.
The UN: Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework
When Professor John Ruggie was appointed the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on business and human rights back in 2005, he had a 2-year research based mandate “to ‘identify and clarify’ existing standards and practices.” In 2007, the UN Human Rights Council extended Ruggie’s mandate for 1 year with a request for recommendations based on his research. This mandate concluded with the publication of the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework in 2008 which was “welcomed” during the 8th session of the UN Human Rights Council. Once again, Ruggie’s mandate was extended for another 3 years during which the UN Human Rights Council requested that the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework be operationalized. The outcome of this long history is the publication of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Frameworkwhich were “recognized” by the 17th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
So what’s so important about these guidelines, and this history in general? They clarify the duties of businesses and states when it comes to human rights. What I think is especially important is the fact that the UN has basically placed corporate activity right in the middle of human rights discourse stipulating very clearly that not only does business have a responsibility to respect human rights, it also has a role in creating and supporting the mechanisms to remedy any rights violations associated with business activities. Essentially, the UN [which some have argued is the purveyor of global norms] has validated and legitimized the idea that business has a role in the governance of human rights. As a side note, one of the features of The Gap Inc., 2010 CSR report is the launch of their Human Rights policy [one of the first companies I know of with one of those] which directly references and uses similar terminology as the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework.
But I still haven’t shared the best part. If you read this document carefully, you will notice section 12:
You would think that I would be really excited about the ILO reference in this, but that’s not interesting at all since the commentary section clarifies that what they mean by the ILO’s declaration is actually just the 8 core rights which almost any business serious about CSR already acscribes to anyway. No, the interesting part is this simple mathematical equation:
International Bill of Human Rights
United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
If you go deeper and look at the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights you will find a small statement, Article 7.a.ii, that is very relevant:
The OECD: Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Recommendations for Responsible Business Conduct in a Global Context
As you may have noticed, these declarations and reports and guidelines feed off each other. When Ruggie’s Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework was first released, the OECD took notice. In 2009, the idea was floated that maybe it was time to update their own guidelines for businesses which had not been reviewed since 2000! Kudos to them for noticing that a lot has changed since 2000. So it’s 2010, and after a whole lot of negotiations and discussions, the 48 member countries come up with a document called the Terms of Reference for an Update of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises which basically set out the parameters for changes to the guidelines. On page 4 of this document is this line:
The OECD then had conferences and meetings, some with John Ruggie, to discuss the future form of their guidelines. Finally, this year, the updated guidelines were launched in May. In those 84 pages, Chapter V, section 4.b stipulates:
If you look at the 2010 set of guidelines, there is no mention of adequate pay to “satisfy the basic needs of the workers and their families” so this was definitely an addition to this year’s guidelines. But, the commentary section doesn’t mention it at all! I don’t think this was an oversight. Maybe this was a way to test this proposition and gauge reactions. In any case, once again, a reference to some sort of an improvement in wages to meet basic needs is out there in an official document. The idea is becoming more embedded in the global normative outlook even if it still hasn’t been defined or had its parameters clarified.
The FLA: Workplace Code of Conduct
In June this year, after a 2 year process of consultations with their stakeholders, the FLA revised their Workplace Code of Conduct. And they made it really easy to spot the differences between the 1997 code and the revised 2011 code with a side-by-side comparison. This picture shows an interesting change [1997 on the left, 2011 on the right]:
Again, “basic needs” is used to describe the same thing the OECD was talking about; some sort of improvement in wages so that workers can afford their basic needs plus a little extra. To go a little further, the FLA stipulates that if the minimum wage does not cover basic needs plus a little extra, FLA members have to work with the FLA to reach such a level of compensation!! And so here it is, a direct call on businesses to work to improve wage conditions so that workers can afford their basic needs and have a little extra leftover!
Even though many organizations have been working on promoting the idea of a living wage including the Asia Floor Wage Campaign and the Ethical Trading Initiative, this is the first time that we are seeing these ideas seep into policy related documents at the global level. And this conversation about living wages isn’t contextually relegated to ‘developing’ countries. Check out this article from This Magazine about the living wage debate in Canada. Things start to get really complicated when there are discussions about the nitty-gritty details. Whose responsibility is it to implement these types of policies? What will the wider impact on the rest of society be? How will these policies be implemented within supply chains? and the questions just keep coming. The video below is from the ETI Conference in 2008 where these questions were actually discussed (start at 1:34). At the end of the day, this is just the beginning of the mainstreaming of the conversation but it is still a start!
You’ve likely followed the mass faintings of garment workers that have taken place in Cambodia this year. While most reports have cited gruelling working conditions and worker exposure to toxic chemicals as likely causes, reasons for the faintings remain unclear.
Add to this a recent report out of Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, “Tearing Apart at the Seams: How Widespread Use of Fixed-Duration Contracts Threatens Cambodian Workers and the Cambodian Garment Industry.”
The report highlights an amendment to relax restrictions on fixed-duration contracts would compromise the rights of garment workers under both Cambodian and international law. As a result, the authors advise the government not to amend the current labour law.
“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.” (James Silk, director of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic)
While we wait to learn how all of this will continue to play out, we thought we’d leave you on a positive note, and (re)draw your attention to an important health and safety education initiative we posted on our Facebook page a couple of weeks ago: The ILO-BFC’s Garment Workers Open University 2011.
“Each Sunday, nearly 500 workers, from 20 garment factories, attended a full-day training to learn some basic knowledge about the Cambodian Labour Law, and obtain information about social protection services available to them.” (ILO-BFC)