Why do we keep hearing about labor abuses in overseas factories like those of Apple-supplier Foxconn? Auditing and inspections are inadequate to solve the problem. Requiring companies to examine and publicly report on risks along their supply chains can help eliminate violations.
The New York Times’ recent investigative report of poor working conditions at Apple supplier factories in China hit the airwaves with a bang. Shortly thereafter, The Guardian reported on abuses of workers producing sportswear in Bangladesh for Nike, Adidas and Puma. Though Mike Daisey’s account of Apple factory abuses has been exposed for containing fabricated details, the underlying story of deplorable labor conditions remains true.
Accounts of labor rights abuses in overseas factories have been emerging since the mid-1990s, when Wal-Mart’s Kathie Lee Gifford clothing line was found to be using child labor, as were some of Nike’s contract factories in Asia, to take just two examples. Those early exposés led multinational corporations to establish supply chain management systems, which in turn spawned a cottage industry of factory inspections.
So why do we keep seeing these stories, particularly among big brands that have been attempting to get a grip on their supply chains for years? One important reason is that, while auditing and inspections have called attention to the need for companies to address human rights abuses in their supply chains, these processes suffer from significant weaknesses and – on their own – do not solve the problem.
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