1)Your clients include some of the world’s largest corporations, including Wal-Mart, Apple and Starbucks. These are companies that have all struggled with ensuring that, throughout their supply chain, workers’ rights are being respected. What techniques or policies should smaller companies institute in the beginning to avoid workers’ rights violations as they grow?
Workers’ rights violations are everywhere, in every sector and every part of the world, including the United States. So it’s not possible for a business person to confidently say, for example, “I’m not sourcing from China, so I don’t have any problems with workers’ rights.” The image of a “sweatshop” in which poor women sit in rows sewing garments has to be replaced in our minds with pictures of farms in Alabama, construction sites in Dubai and fishing boats in New Zealand—these are all places one may find exploited workers.
But it’s not only about avoiding problems. Businesses of all sizes can support broad-based economic development by taking steps to make sure workers are paid, that workplaces are safe, and that women have equal opportunity. In addition, respecting workers’ rights means more than mere compensation. It requires raising the salaries for the working poor. They, in turn, will spend their income on better housing, food for their kids, education and better nutrition.
There are a few rules of thumb that smaller companies can adopt. They all fall under the common sense idea that it is better to avoid problems than to have to solve them later. Business leaders should design their operations with the risk of labor violations in mind, which will save them from having to spend more money down the line.
There are several rules of thumb, some of which are obvious:
1.Don’t buy from places with known workers’ rights violations – A simple search online can identify where some of these are. If you are buying t-shirts that are made in Tirupur, India for example, you run the risk of employing debt-bonded adolescents who work in the fabric mills there.
2.Be aware of the risk associated with outsourcing – Whether you are buying from an overseas supplier or hiring through a temp agency, businesses should use as few supplier layers as possible. The farther your business is from where its products are being made, the less knowledge business leaders have about what’s going on in the workplace.
3.Demand good working conditions from your suppliers - Suppliers may not have heard from a buyer that working conditions are important. So, a simple conversation may motivate them to do better. If your suppliers say that the workers are well-treated, push back. Ask if they interviewed workers or if they had a reputable third-party do so? Did they have a long-term workforce or one characterized by rapid turnover? Does the supplier talk about “social responsibility” with their own suppliers?