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FW: Fair Labor Association (fwd)

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  • Bell, Elizabeth
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 27, 1999
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      > Info, critiques and links on the Fair Labor Association can be found at:
      > http://www.corpwatch.org/trac/greenwash/0sweat.html
      >
      > The New York Times
      > July 30, 1999
      >
      > FOREIGN AFFAIRS / By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
      >
      > The New Human Rights
      >
      > In this post-totalitarian world, the human rights debate needs an
      > update. While Americans are focusing on issues of free speech, elections
      > and the right to write an op-ed piece, people in the developing world
      > are increasingly focused on workers' rights, jobs, the right to organize
      > and the right to have decent working conditions.
      >
      > Quite simply, for many workers around the world the oppression of the
      > unchecked commissars has been replaced by the oppression of the
      > unregulated capitalists, who move their manufacturing from country to
      > country, constantly in search of those who will work for the lowest
      > wages and lowest standards. To some, the Nike swoosh is now as scary as
      > the hammer and sickle.
      >
      > These workers need practical help from the West, not the usual moral
      > grandstanding. To address their needs, the human rights community needs
      > to retool in this post-cold-war world, every bit as much as the old arms
      > makers have had to learn how to make subway cars and toasters instead of
      > tanks.
      >
      > "In the cold war," says Michael Posner, head of the Lawyers Committee
      > for Human Rights, "the main issue was how do you hold governments
      > accountable when they violate laws and norms. Today the emerging issue
      > is how do you hold private companies accountable for the treatment of
      > their workers at a time when government control is ebbing all over the
      > world, or governments themselves are going into business and can't be
      > expected to play the watchdog or protection role."
      >
      > The impulse is to call for some global governing body to fix the
      > problem. But there is none and there will be none. The only answer is
      > for activists to learn how to use globalization to their advantage -- to
      > super-empower themselves -- so there can be global governance, even
      > without global government. They have to learn how to compel companies to
      > behave better by mobilizing consumers and the Internet. I'm talking
      > about a network solution for human rights, and it's the future of social
      > advocacy.
      >
      > Precisely such a solution is now being tested with the apparel industry.
      > For years, U.S. manufacturers have used their clout in Congress to block
      > any attempt to impose U.S. worker standards on their factories abroad.
      > Meanwhile, when these shirtmakers shift production to Guatemala, there
      > are no local standards that are enforced there, and the International
      > Labor Organization has no clout. So you end up with no local or global
      > enforcement, which was highlighted in 1996 with the exposure of
      > appalling working conditions in a Honduran factory producing Kathie Lee
      > Gifford clothing.
      >
      > Out of that revelation a new coalition was born that will begin
      > operating shortly. Called the Fair Labor Association (F.L.A.), it brings
      > together the Clinton Administration, groups like the Lawyers Committee,
      > apparel makers and U.S. colleges. It will work like this: The apparel
      > companies and human rights groups have agreed on a minimum standard for
      > worker conditions in their factories, including child labor and working
      > hours. They also agreed on a uniform system of monitoring that will
      > involve independent external monitors who are allowed to make surprise
      > visits to factories. The monitors will be accredited by the F.L.A. and
      > could range from church groups to Price Waterhouse. The F.L.A. will
      > issue an annual report on each company's compliance, which will be
      > broadcast on the Internet and, it is hoped, published by Consumer
      > Reports.
      >
      > If a company meets the standards, it will be allowed to attach a special
      > F.L.A. label on its clothes, so for the first time consumers will have
      > credible information to differentiate between brands, to buy those that
      > support worker rights and shun those that don't. (Nike, Reebok, Adidas,
      > Kathie Lee, L. L. Bean, Levi Strauss, Liz Claiborne, Phillips Van
      > Heusen, Patagonia and Nicole Miller are participating. The Gap, Tommy
      > Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, The Limited, Champion and Russell are not.)
      >
      > The hope is that every college bookstore and major retailer that sells
      > sneakers, T-shirts and sweatshirts will insist on selling only
      > F.L.A.-labeled products. No one says this program is going to
      > revolutionize worker conditions overnight. It will set a minimum
      > baseline, though. And if it works, it can be a model for how to deploy
      > the power of networks and the Internet to make every consumer a
      > potential human rights enforcer and to deprive global corporations of
      > anywhere to hide. If it works, it can also make a real difference in the
      > real lives of real workers.
      >
      > Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
      >
      >
      >
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