March 12, 2019 Garrett Brown 0Comment

The river of articles and reports on unsafe, unhealthy and illegal working conditions in the global supply chains of all major consumer products (apparel, electronics, toys, sports shoes, food, etc.) continues unabated. I have assembled a selection of the key reports and articles for the last few months.

Among my favorites in this recent collection:

  • Another poll indicating that consumers in the UK would pay higher prices for non-sweatshop goods – but would have to be sure that the companies’ “sweat-free” claims are actually true;
  • A major report by the International Labor Organization on how to make future work a lot less exploitative and a lot “brighter”;
  • A report by the International Labor Rights Fund on the “future of fashion” and how monitoring of factory working conditions can be done accurately; and
  • A report from London’s Guardian newspaper on the successful – and ongoing – 9-year-old experiment of a genuinely non-sweatshop garment factory in the Dominican Republic.

Probably the saddest story is the report in a Pakistan newspaper on textile workers there dying of “brown lung” or byssinosis caused by cotton dust.  This disease – and its prevention – have been known for centuries, and it is criminal that it still exists in the 21st century.  One of the workers, who will die a slow, painful death, spoke for workers around the world when he said: “We have no other choice but to continue working under these conditions because we have families to feed.”

The standard “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) programs continue to fail in addressing hazardous and illegal working conditions.  These programs have been unable to make any meaningful impact to improve conditions for workers employed in the supply chain of renown consumer product “brands.”

There is an alternative to CSR that is gaining publicity and support – it is called “worker-driven social responsibility” (WSR).  The operating principles of WSR include:

  • “Labor rights initiatives must be worker-driven” – this means factory floor workers and their representatives must play an integral part in the development, implementation and verification of workplace standards; and
  • “Buyers must afford suppliers the financial incentive and capacity to comply” – this means that once hazards are found, the brand cannot just walk away from the factory, but rather must provide the local factories with the resources and support required to actually fix the problems.

The entire statement of principles, as well as the organizational and individual endorsers of WSR are at the website of the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network.

I’ve written previously about how conscientious consumers and public health professional can monitor  working conditions and workers’ rights in global supply chains.  The UK’s “Business & Human Rights Resource Centre” provides a one-stop way, thanks to the staff of this non-profit organization.  They scour the internet for the latest reports from companies, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on all aspects of global business.  You can sign up for a weekly notification.

The Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network also continues to provide up-to-date information on CSR on its website.

Garrett Brown is a certified industrial hygienist who worked for Cal/OSHA for 20 years as a field Compliance Safety and Health Officer, and then served as Special Assistant to the Chief of the Division before retiring in 2014.  Since retiring, Brown continues to follow Cal/OSHA issues and established the “Inside Cal/OSHA” website. Brown also has been the volunteer Coordinator of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network since 1993 and has coordinated projects in Bangladesh, Central America, China, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Mexico and Vietnam.


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