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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas