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

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Supporters of New Democracy wave Greek flags during Antonis Samaras pre-election speech.  

Greece elections: Where does power lie? This is the question that ties the UK to Athens

Steve Richards
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project