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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trade Counter Sales Assistant

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Driver / Warehouse Operative

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£15000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for on...

Recruitment Genius: Strategic Solutions Director

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Their digital community is one of the fastest ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A protestor from the 'Robin Hood Tax Campaign,'  

The Robin Hood Tax is a more sensible and fairer way of helping our economy to recover

Jeremy Corbyn
 

It's not Corbyn who has failed to adapt to the 21st Century. It's his critics

Martin Williams
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works