(en) Campaign for Labor Rights commentary

Lyn and Shawn (linjin@tao.ca)
Sat, 28 Jun 1997 09:57:55 pst


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Labor Alerts/Labor News a service of Campaign for Labor Rights 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003 clr@igc.apc.org (541) 344-5410 http://www.compugraph.com/clr

Commentary: The Andrew Young/GoodWorks International Report on Nike

On June 24, GoodWorks International released the results of its 6-month review of Nike labor practices. Many human rights advocates would have liked the GoodWorks recommendations to point Nike more clearly toward a resolution of its problems. Campaign for Labor Rights is pleased that GoodWorks has urged Nike to take stronger steps to end abuses in its overseas factories. We are issuing this statement to clarify what actions we and many others believe are necessary in order for Nike -- or any company operating in the context of the global sweatshop -- to treat their workers with justice.

1. Nike, Disney, Guess and other companies should commit themselves to paying a living wage, not just the legal minimum or the prevailing industry wage in the countries where they operate. It is widely acknowledged -- even by many of the governments which have set substandard minimum wages in their own country -- that competition for foreign investment forces much of the world into a "race to the bottom" with regard to wages and working conditions. This is no way to set standards. If companies cannot commit to paying enough for workers to meet their basic needs, then how can they claim to be eradicating sweatshop conditions in the operations of their overseas factories?

2. Most companies which have weighed in on the subject now admit that some sort of independent monitoring is necessary during the transition from outright sweatshops to unionized factories where workers can organize and bargain collectively for their own needs. There is disagreement as to whether monitoring should be done by local human rights and religious organizations or whether factories should be monitored by businesses which merely consult with such organizations. A precedent for the former type of monitoring already exists. As a result of a campaign organized by the National Labor Committee, a grouping of human rights and religious organizations monitors conditions at the Mandarin factory in El Salvador, which produces for the Gap clothing chain. The alliance of monitoring groups has gotten high marks for fairness and ability. Notably, management at Mandarin credit the monitors for significantly improving communication and morale in what had been an extremely tense working environment. Experience proves: Truly independent monitoring does work. As for the other model of monitoring, Jay Mazur, President of UNITE textile workers' union said, "The most respected monitor in the world, if paid by the company being monitored, is not independent."

3. The largest transnational corporations are more powerful than most of the countries where they produce. In the aggregate, the transnationals certainly are more powerful than most -- if not all -- countries. To argue that the problem of sweatshops has to be solved solely by the countries where sweatshops are found is to argue for sweatshop abuses to become more prevalent, not less so. Corporate campaigns must remain an essential part of labor rights work for the foreseeable future.

4. We are not asking Nike and Disney to do anything that we don't expect of other companies in their respective industries. One reason these two companies are the focus of international labor rights campaigns is that they rightly are perceived as the leaders in their industries. Once Nike and Disney agree to do right by their workers, it is only a matter of time before the lesser companies in those industries follow suit.

The Presidential task force on sweatshop issues was formed because Liz Claiborne, Reebok, Nike and other companies were feeling the heat from grassroots activists. Nike contracted with GoodWorks International because grassroots protests succeeded in linking Nike with sweatshop abuses. The continued involvement of local organizations is absolutely essential if we are going to challenge the global sweatshop. Community-based groups and union locals are the lifeblood of this work. Campaign for Labor Rights would like to begin ongoing communication with your local committee.

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