Our union’s campaign will first assess the legitimacy of corporate codes of conduct within the context of increasing income inequality, exorbitant salaries and benefits for senior management, declining real wages, of the commodification of human labor. It will then force the firms abroad to participate in two-tiered social monitoring program. The first tier is in which a regular auditor (from an NGO or auditing agency) grades the firm on its compliance with its codes of conduct and the level of previous improvements it was suppose to make.
The second tier that the firm’s compliance with is code of conduct is held accountable to is a major organization that could be either the ILO, an alliance of NGOs or the international confederations of trade unions. In my opinion, the World Bank would not qualify because of its diluted stance on human rights due to its control by the world’s largest corporations. These organizations would make sure that the auditors themselves are not biased and are held up to the highest level of integrity.
The chosen organization would randomly inspect the factories to make sure the auditors findings are correct and will report the findings to the public. This public accountability will in turn become a catalyst for creating a universal list of sanctions for violators of codes of conduct while at the same time pressuring the auditors improve their auditing methods and make their standards more demanding. The fourth initiative I propose is advocating that corporations be forced to monetize labor practices. Money is the classic metric of value.
It may be difficult to monetize such things as occupational safety risks (companies that have been in business for a long period of time like Pou Chen, one of the biggest suppliers to Western apparel and footwear industries should be made to monetize their historical accident rate) or sometimes even healthcare, but the most important part of an employer’s treatment of labor is already monetized -the employee’s wage. By simply disclosing the average hourly labor costs of products gives consumers a highly probative summary statistic of how well labor is treated.
If the consumer maintains that the information is reliable, and it is simple, so they can easily interpret it, this labor cost information will allow them to make an informed judgment about whether they are willing to pay more for a fairer wage. Thus, companies such as GAP, Nike, and Timberland, that disproportionately manufacture in developing countries should be encouraged to disclose point-of-purchase information about the average hourly labor costs of manufacturing particular goods.
A consumer who is all set to purchase a shiny new pair of Reeboks may be willing to buy another brand upon learning that the employees had only been paid 40 cents per hour with no health care. Consumers can decide whether cheaper cost is worth the exploitation of human life and will naturally begin to compare his/her wages (although not relative to the consumers standard of living) to that of the laborer. I believe the impact will be great.
This is a challenge for the consumer who falls under social pressure to purchase brand name apparel and cannot be swayed by such statistics. Often times persons who succumb to this pressure are victims of inadequate resources themselves, relative to others in their country (Air Jordan’s by Nike are disproportionately marketed and sold to inner city youth – in my opinion, another socially irresponsible “crime” by Nike).
By allowing the consumer to have convenient access to reliable information, he/she becomes an important agent in the was against unfair labor practices by allowing for a shift of the some of the burden of campaigns off over-worked and under staffed unions and labor activists as well as becoming living, vocal symbols (and indicators) of how the companies bottom line can be affected by disgruntled customers, forcing companies to adhere more strictly to their code of conduct and allowing for more transparency of its supply chain and labor practices – leading the general public, unions, and activist community to have the information they need to accurately and confidently identify initiatives to improve labor standards.