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Keeping Workers Safe Around the World

The Guardian reports that Some kids are not orphans because of this: how unions are keeping workers safe

Posted on
Nov 09, 2017

Thanks to the work of unions in the United States and Europe, workers around the world are safer. Find out more from the Guardian.

As labor unions across much of the world struggle to increase their membership, how do workers get their employers to raise wages and assure safe conditions? That’s the question some of the world’s most innovative worker groups are asking. And they’re hopeful they have found a solution.

Several of those groups gathered last week to launch an ambitious effort to improve the lives of millions of workers in the corporate supply chains.

Among them was the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida-based group that has pressured Taco Bell, McDonald’s and others into getting their tomato growers in Florida to stamp out sexual assault by crew leaders, and a Minneapolis workers’ group, the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, that persuaded Target to adopt a code of conduct for its cleaning contractors to end wage theft and seven-day working weeks for their janitors.

Kalpona Akter, a labor activist from Bangladesh, was on hand to sing the praises of a union-corporate accord that requires strong new safety rules for that country’s apparel factories to prevent catastrophic fires and building collapses.

Meeting at the Ford Foundation to kick off the new effort, these and other worker advocacy groups maintained that corporate self-regulation was not doing nearly enough to assure safety and adequate conditions for the tens of millions of workers in apparel, electronics and agricultural supply chains worldwide.

They are pinning their hopes on a new effort that aims to have workers play a central role in developing workplace codes of conduct and in overseeing enforcement of these codes. Their new effort is called the Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network.

The status quo has led to disasters at apparel factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan, where fires – and egregious safety lapses – have cost hundreds of lives. Those deaths came even though western retailers and brands had sent auditing firms to inspect factories for safety.

“We want to go from a culture of audit-and-ignore to a culture of inspect-and-remedy,” said Ineke Zeldenrust director of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a European-wide anti-sweatshop group.

There are several essential ingredients or principles for any effort that seeks to succeed in bettering conditions for workers in supply chains, according to the initiative:

  • have workers play a central role in developing codes of conduct and make those codes contractually enforceable;
  • have workers help select and oversee the workplace monitors and;
  • impose real market consequences when companies violate those codes of conduct.

“We know that companies don’t regulate themselves,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory monitoring group sponsored by 180 American universities. “If we substitute voluntary corporate self-regulation with enforceable agreements between corporations and worker representatives, we can have a real-world impact in terms of protecting workers’ rights. We have to hold corporations accountable as a matter of contract and not rely on their good graces.”

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