Under orders from Governor Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance, Cal/OSHA has begun cutting field enforcement inspector positions, reversing years of public and legislative efforts to bring California’s workplace safety agency up to the level of personnel and resources enjoyed by Federal and neighboring states’ OSHA agencies.
The latest resource list on articles and reports describing unsafe and illegal working conditions in global supply chains producing consumer goods for the world economy. In addition to the usual tales of exploitation and woe, there have been victories for supply chain workers over the past several months.
Four years after the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,100 garment workers in Bangldesh, “savage capitalism” in the developing world undercuts workers’ safety throughout global supply chain factories in every corner of the world.
Public interest continues to grow for accurate information on the working conditions faced by the 450 million workers in global supply chains. The last quarter’s reports, through September 2017, include information on workplace health and safety, discrimination and sexual harassment of women workers, and corporate non-compliance with even basic labor laws in the electronics, apparel, and food industries.
In the last two years, the California Legislature has provided the Department of Industrial Relations with significantly increased financial resources to enhance the effectiveness of Cal/OSHA and better protect the 19 million workers in the state. DIR has failed to take full advantage of these resources to strengthen Cal/OSHA while at the same time it has provided refunds to employers who have paid the fees that generate these unused resources. The net effect is a Cal/OSHA that is weaker and less effective than it could be if all available resources were put to work. The people who pay the cost of these resources “left on the table” are the workers of California and their families and communities.
Two global unions, four labor rights organizations and 23 apparel brands and retailers agreed in late June to extend the ground-breaking Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety that has led to safer working conditions for 4 million garment workers. The legally-binding agreement came about following the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,138 workers in Dhaka.
Dozens of safety inspector positions in California are vacant while workplace fatalities and injuries in the state are on the rise. Cal/OSHA has had an average of 34 vacant field enforcement positions a month since July 2015, which means that more than $10 million in state-authorized funding was left unused.
With new reports on working conditions in global supply chains coming out every week from the news media and non-governmental organizations – how is possible to keep track of the most important developments in health and safety and other worker rights? There is a “one-stop shopping” solution to sign up for a weekly update of recent reports and corporate responses, as well as more organizations to track for those with more time and ambition.
Accounting professors have confirmed what we always suspected: companies which are scrambling to meet or just beat Wall Street analysts’ profit projections have worker injury rates that are 12% higher than other employers. The recent research indicates that frantic efforts by “benchmark-beating” employers – increasing employees’ workloads or pressuring them to work faster, at the same time that these employers cut safety spending on activities like maintaining equipment or training employees, to meet the profit projections – are the likely source of increased injuries and illnesses.
In February 2017, garment workers in Myanmar, who were enraged by abusive and illegal working conditions, stormed their factory and smashed $75,000 worth of equipment. The worker revolt revealed the broken promises of international clothing brands that sweatshop apparel production would lead to better lives and “empowerment.”