Stephen Foley: Decades of criticism have not cleaned up supply chains

 

Share
Related Topics

Last year it was Nike. Indonesian workers manufacturing for its Converse brand told undercover reporters that supervisors slap them in the face and kick them if they make mistakes. The mainly female workforce at the factory in Pou Chen makes 50 cents an hour, we learned, and those who file complaints can expect to be fired.

It is two decades now since opprobrium first rained down on the rest of the garment industry for its use of sweatshop labour from foreign contractors; it is well over a decade since the industry promised to shape up. So why are abuses like these still happening?

The blame lies with the fractured nature of manufacturing supply chains in today's globalised world. Long gone are the days when a paternalistic corporate boss paced a factory floor. Manufacturers outsource to whoever offers the lowest cost and the greatest flexibility. Nike publishes a list of more than 700 different suppliers across the world. Contractors outsource to sub-contractors of their own. There are a lot of people in a supply chain who have incentives to screw down pay and conditions for workers.

It is up to consumers to make sure turning a blind eye to this is too expensive a gamble for companies. A company's brand is its biggest asset, and that includes its reputation. It is not that consumer boycotts amount to much, but the threat is that talented employees will desert a company whose morality is seen as tainted.

What the garment industry has built is a vast system of codes of conduct and audits aimed at highlighting abuses, but such a system will never be funded sufficiently to match the scale of the supply chain. Apple, under fire for dangerous conditions and child labour in its supply chain, this year became the first electronics firm to join the Fair Labour Association (FLA), set up by the garment industry to inspect factories. But the FLA has so far audited just three of Apple's largest outsourced manufacturing plants. The iPad maker lists 156 companies which make parts or assemble its devices.

And so what if you could audit every factory? What the FLA's audits have revealed is that large numbers of suppliers do not comply with laws or codes of conduct. Transparency has pushed out some of the worst excesses, but cleaning up the supply chain will require more creative thinking.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’  

Children's TV shows like Grange Hill used to connect us to the real world

Grace Dent
An Indian bookseller waits for customers at a roadside stall on World Book and Copyright Day in Mumbai  

Novel translation lets us know what is really happening in the world

Boyd Tonkin
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine