The Everyday Economist
Often times, economists are asked about sweatshops. Individuals often assume that sweatshops are morally wrong and thus question why they exist. However, they are not morally wrong. In fact, sweatshops are actually one of the first positive signs of growth for those in developing countries.
Adam Smith taught us in The Wealth of Nations that two free individuals will only trade if they both perceive themselves as benefitting from the transaction. We know that a businessman would find it beneficial to pay workers a low wage. However, if the long hours of hard labor at low wages do not make the worker better off, why would they choose to work there?
It is hard to define a low wage. Americans often gasp at the wages for which those in developing countries are willing to work. A low wage by American standards does not necessarily deem it a low wage. One must analyze the wage by the standards in the country in which it is being paid. In the United States, $5 per hour would be deemed an unacceptable wage because it is below our minimum wage. Similarly, the citizens of the United States enjoy a higher standard of living. Those who are considered poor still drive cars and own televisions. However, in other countries this is not the case. In developing countries, the main concern is often food and shelter. When the standards of living are so low, the money can go a lot further.
We are often told horror stories of those in southeast Asia who are working for less than a dollar an hour to make tennis shoes. This often causes Marxist outrage. However, there is no need to worry. Individuals voluntarily choose to work in these environments. If the wages and conditions are so bad, why would anyone choose to work there? Often times they choose to do so because they have no better options. In other words, the job in a sweatshop is better than no job at all.
Sweatshops are also key signs of growth in developing nations. As more and more of these shops open, more and more individuals can find work. The competition for labor will continue to push wages higher. This increase in employment and wages causes the society as a whole to see in increase in the standard of living.
Individuals choose to work in sweatshops because it is better than the alternative.
Activists said they rescued 70 boys embroidering garments in small, squalid factories in India's capital Thursday, days after the reported discovery of children as young as 10 sewing clothes for retailer Gap Inc.
The boys, between the ages of 8 and 14, were mostly the children of poor farmers in Bihar, India's most impoverished eastern state, said Kailash Satyarthi of the group Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Children Mission.
They had been brought to New Delhi to work in small embroidery factories, he said. The work requires the use of very fine needles and glittering synthetic fibers to make long saris worn by Indian women.
The raids on the factories highlight the widespread problem of child labor in India. On Sunday, Britain's Observer newspaper reported that it had found children as young as 10 making clothes with Gap labels in a factory in New Delhi.
Gap responded quickly, saying the factory was being run by a subcontractor who was hired in violation of Gap's policies, and none of the products made there would be sold in its stores.
On Monday, activists rescued 14 children working in the Shahpur Jat neighborhood of New Delhi.
Satyarthi led his volunteers to nearly a dozen sweatshops in the Khanpur neighborhood on Thursday and took the rescued children to a nearby police station. The employers fled the area to avoid arrests.
"After police formalities, we will try to send them back to their parents," Satyarthi said. His organization has rescued nearly 1,400 child workers in the past year, he said.
Gulzar Ahmed, 12, said he was paid 3,000 rupees (US$75; 52) a month for working 12 to 15 hours a day.
However, 14-year-old Ahmed Bilour said he was only given enough money for food because he was still learning embroidery.
The working and living conditions in the sweatshops were grim, with the boys packed into filthy rooms where they sewed all day.
Trade Minister Kamal Nath said earlier this week that activists were exaggerating the problem of child labor in the country.
He warned that bad publicity might prompt rich countries to limit imports from poor nations like India.
India's transformation in the past decade into an emerging economic power has done little to alleviate widespread poverty and the problems that go along with it, such as child labor.
The government estimates that 13 million children work, many in hazardous industries such as glassmaking, where such labor has long been banned. Rights activists place the number as high as 60 million, with one estimate saying that 20 percent of India's economy is dependent on children under 14
Call centres housed in swanky glass towers may represent the new face of 21st-century India, but the labour practices they follow belong to the 19th century.
The BPO industry in India currently employs 350,000 workers, according to the trade body Nasscom. Though business process outsourcing (BPO) companies are projected as promoters of innovation, flexibility and freedom at workplace, they are actually quite inflexible, eroding even basic rights at work. This is the finding of the first major study of labour practices in Indian call centres.
Superior work environment, the use of latest technologies, higher salaries compared to the manufacturing sector, fancy designations, smart and young peer workers — all these make young employees believe that the job they are doing is of an executive or a professional in a multinational-like environment.
But the organisational structure of call centres is basically ‘dualistic’ — consisting of a core or permanent set of employees and ‘periphery’ or non-permanent workers. All call-centre agents are periphery workers, who are easily substitutable, while team leaders and managers make up the core group.
This is similar to the popular model of work organisations followed in 1980s, the study done by the V.V. Giri National Institute of Labour pointed out. The institute is an autonomous body working under the Labour Ministry. The dualistic workforce model allows firms to regulate the workforce and nip in the bud any signs of collectivism.
The labour practices call centres follow are even much older. Take, for instance, the monitoring of workers at the workplace. “Work is monitored on the spot and after working hours with the help of specially designed software, computer network and closed circuit cameras,” the study says. “The degree of surveillance required at work is even comparable with the situations of 19th century prisons or Roman slave ships.” In addition, all interactions among employees in office are continuously recorded or taped, and randomly checked by the team leader or manager. Mistakes in work lead to immediate warnings and they are recorded in ‘warning cards’ that form part of the daily ratings of agents. If an employee commits three errors in a day, he or she is warned and gets zero in his or her daily rating. Three consecutive zeros lead to counselling or even dismissal.
Availing oneself of leave without prior notice or consent is treated as unauthorised absence — sufficient reason for termination. During the course of the survey, half a dozen cases of termination due to unauthorised absence were recorded. Even if an employee is sick, it is mandatory to get the consent of the team leaders at least four to six hours before the shift, failing which the leave is considered “unscheduled”.
Human-resource managers play a key role in call centres. Their task is "camouflaging work as fun", detaching workplace feeling from employees and giving them opportunities to air grievances with least damage to the company, the study noted. The HR departments undertake activities such as organizing parties, recreation activities and designing workspaces.
All this gives employees a superficial sense of 'empowerment'. But the actual task of HR managers is to define and enforce roles for separate categories of employees, and define dos and don'ts for them. Yet another example of giving employees a sense of 'illusionary freedom and flexibility' is the number of codes of conduct, which are actually meant to be violated than complied with. For instance, BPO firms insist on a dress code on paper but allow employees to wear clothes of their choice. This is a strategy to make workers happy at no additional cost, the study said.
"HR departments strive to ensure that creativity and productivity of the workers are effectively tapped to strike a 'right' balance between work and fun, thereby creating a productively docile workforce," said Babu P. Remesh, author of the study.
For the study, about 280 customer-care agents from six call centres in Noida were interviewed through a detailed questionnaire. In addition, detailed interviews were done with 40 employees, managers and team leaders from BPO companies in Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida.
From The Hindustan Times - October 24, 2005 - Dinesh C. Sharma
Tuesday, October 30, 2007 (New York):The 'sweatshops' scandal involving GAP has sent the multi-million dollar clothing company into crisis management mode.The company had to pull out the products from stores that were allegedly made in a Shapur Jat sweatshop in New Delhi.But as the controversy snowballed, the President of GAP North America, Marka Hansen, had to step in to control the damage.In a statement, he said GAP has a history of addressing challenges like this head-on and their approach to this situation will be no exception. But activists say the statement is not good enough for GAP to walk away from the sweatshops.In a separate statement, Dan Henkle, Gap Inc's senior vice president of social responsibility, said that the company will take immediate and appropriate action with the vendor and their unauthorised sub-contractor."We have been making steady progress, and the children are now under the care of the local government. As our policy requires, the vendor with which our order was originally placed will be required to provide the children with access to schooling and job training, pay them an ongoing wage and guarantee them jobs as soon as they reach the legal working age,” Henkle said in the statement.“We will now work with the local government and with Global March to ensure that our vendor fulfils these obligations,” the statement said."Now Gap can't cut and run. Gap does have a responsibility to the children that have been producing its clothing and according to its own policies it needs to make sure that those children get back in school and have appropriate rehabilitation, so that they don't end up in worse forms of child labour," said Zama Coursen-Neff, Deputy Director of Children's Rights Division, Human Rights Watch.It's the kind of criticism that forced high street retailers like GAP to bring in tough internal guidelines to combat charges that they sourced their goods from sweathsops.Swift reactionThe San Francisco based GAP Inc has a Code of Vendor Conduct that states that all workers must be above the legal working age.GAP has 90 inspectors located the world over who make unannounced visits around the world to ensure vendors are abiding by it's guidelines. In 2006, GAP actually terminated contracts with 23 factories, which were violating the code. The India sweatshop scandal demonstrates that anti-sweatshop guidelines aren't foolproof. But at the same time GAP's swift reaction is a sign of how critical it is for companies like GAP to demonstrate their social responsibility. "The Nike response in the mid-90s to the GAP's recent actions I think gives you a sense of how things have changed. In some ways it probably was the result of cases like Nike that has brought about such a change because it has made companies realise exactly how vulnerable they are," said Dr Raymond Fisman, Professor of Social Enterprise, Columbia Business School.Ban on importsThe scandal comes just as 13 Senate co-sponsors, including Hillary Clinton, are pushing for a legislation at US Senate Commerce Subcommittee hearings that calls for a ban on importing all sweatshop-made products."Doing well by doing good" is a familiar motto in the business world today. Going by GAP's reaction of immediately pulling the product in question from the shelves and now planning on calling a meeting with all its suppliers to ensure that an incident like this does not occur again, it seems clear that there is increasing awareness that brands are vulnerable to charges of corporate irresponsibility
Article Source : The Observer, UKAuthor : Dan McDougallDate of Issue : Apr 30 2006Title of Article : The price of sparkle is child slaveryDetails : A decrepit iron fan creaks in the corner of the windowless room, offering sparse relief from the rising humidity. The air is thick with the foul smell of old cooking oil and burning ghee floating up from the street kitchens and hissing braziers on the south Delhi street below. Cross-legged on the floor, his tired eyes struggling to focus on a broad silk canvas, nine-year-old Khalil painstakingly pulls delicate loops of silver thread around tiny, intricate crystals. About him, in the same sweatshop, a dozen other children are squeezed into cramped, wood-framed workstations. Festering blisters ravage the tips of many of their fingers, perhaps a reaction to the dyes on the silk but most likely a consequence of gripping tiny steel needles for up to 16 hours a day. Laid out on the saris stretched before each child are tiny mounds of precision-cut glass - Swarovski crystals - imported from Austria to satisfy huge demand for the decorative sequins and beads. In the late afternoon light the tiny jewels reflect a kaleidoscope of colours In the past few years, Swarovski beadwork has become a status symbol few Indian brides or wedding guests can bear to be seen without. No middle-class wedding is complete if the bridal lengha and dupatta are not adorned with thousands of hand-sewn crystals. Daniel Swarovski, the multinational Austrian family firm, recorded an estimated turnover of more than $2bn in 2005 on the strength of endorsements from some of the world's leading fashion designers and film stars. But an investigation by The Observer has uncovered disturbing consequences of its soaring sales in the subcontinent: a growth in illegal sweatshops in the Indian capital, New Delhi, specifically to cater for the burgeoning demand for its crystals in embroidered saris, and a vast black market of counterfeit crystals 'India is one of the biggest markets in the world for Swarovski sequins and crystal beads. Their profits here have grown by almost 150 per cent in the past two years,' says Manoj Kumar Singh of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, a charity fighting to free child labour slaves. 'What the stock markets don't tell you is that the popularity of these sparkling adornments sold on by the firm has created a life of servitude, a living nightmare for tens of thousands of children who are forced to sew them into saris or cushions or jeans and men's suits. 'You only have to look at the glass beads Swarovski export here by the million to understand how they are attached to clothing. It needs to be done by hand, and small hands. The firm isn't directly running the sweatshops, but they are selling hundreds of millions of tiny sequins to people who do. 'To make matters a thousands times worse, the demand for Swarovski has spawned a massive black market, with fake crystals and sequins coming in from Taiwan and China, which means more work for child labourers.' Founded by Austrian engineer Daniel Swarovski in 1892, the world's leading manufacturer of cut crystal grew from a maker of collectible figurines to a highly desirable brand found everywhere from Camilla Parker Bowles's wedding hat to P Diddy's crystal-encrusted mobile phone. Its crystals are used in haute couture, jewellery, lighting, interior design, cosmetic products and chandeliers. The firm has factories in 15 countries and more than 14,000 employees worldwide. Swarovski's popularity in India is the result of a calculated marketing campaign similar to the strategy that made it an icon of luxury in the West. It has collaborated with fashion houses such as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Roberto Cavalli, Emanuel Ungaro and Gianni Versace, and leading British designers Julien Macdonald and Alexander McQueen. It has permeated the most lucrative aspects of youth culture: Swarovski crystals can be found on iPods and mobile phones, and its own crystal-studded temporary tattoos. In India - a country long enamoured with glitter and crystals on garments, accessories and even temples and palaces - its staple profit makers are beads and sequins for some of the biggest names in clothing. Swarovski has partnerships with nine of India's top fashion designers, including JJ Valaya and Tarun Tahiliani, whose clients include Jemima Khan, the Duchess of Kent and Bollywood stars Aishwarya Rai, Simi Garewal and Kabir Bedi. Five years after setting up its first shop here, Swarovski has 31 Indian stores and hundreds of wholesalers, and this week announced plans for 19 exclusive retail stores in the next three years. The Observer visited more than a dozen sweatshops in the Udichand Marg and Kotla Mubarakpur areas of Delhi and saw children as young as eight or nine attaching Swarovski sequins and beads to couture saris and Salwar Kameez suits for sale in India and export to the UK and US. Crystals were widely sold on the streets below the small factories by wholesalers with no documentation to prove they were registered Swarovski dealers. 'The demand for these crystals has got out of control here in Delhi,' said Varan Manchanda, who owns a haberdashery store in Kotla Mubarakpur. 'We can't get enough of them to sell. Most of the sari manufacturers now use a mixture of Swarovski and counterfeit Swarovski on the garments to cope with demand. The popularity of the crystals has spawned a huge black market and a counterfeit industry worth an absolute fortune. Women are regularly walking into sari stores in Old Delhi and saying "I want a Swarovski sari, no matter what the cost." It's good for me and good for business.' Three floors above, a dozen young boys are squeezed into a space that in this part of Delhi might normally accommodate a single family. Slumped against filthy walls or hunched over wooden frames, they are applying Swarovski crystals to beautifully dyed bolts of blue, yellow and pink silk that will be sold as haute couture saris in areas such as Southall, Wembley and Knightsbridge, fetching prices of more than $2,000. 'We work to order for sari shops in Chandi Chowk and other areas of Old Delhi, but also export to the UK, France and America,' the 'garment workshop' manager, Krishnan, says proudly, 'We use genuine Swarovskis, not fake, and there is a huge demand for our work in Europe and in particular our work with Swarovski crystals and fine gold embroidery. The workers here are well treated, we feed them three times and they can come and go as they please. They are not slaves.' I point to one frightened looking little boy, no more than 10 years old. 'He is 15,' Krishnan retorts. 'He is old enough to work, he can leave if he wants.' The heavy padlock on the main entrance suggests another story. Access is through a labyrinth of dark mouldy corridors and winding staircases. Each night the boys bunk down on the roof of the building where they work 16-hour days, sleeping amid a filthy tangle of cables and pools of oily stagnant water. The factory owner's dogs also sleep up here, biting at the fleas infesting their mangy fur. 'We treat them well,' Krishnan says as I look around at the filthy matted bedding. A late lunch is brought in metal bowls: clumps of potato floating in murky curry, a few chapattis. The boys greedily slurp it down before carefully washing their hands and getting back to work. There are hundreds more of these sweatshops in Kotla Mubarakpur, the centre of Delhi's haute couture industry. Straddled between crumbling Mogul ruins and one of Delhi's busiest bazaars, it is a maze of alleyways and streets where police and foreigners rarely venture. The tightly packed buildings and heavily secured basements make it difficult to detect what goes on behind closed doors. Many sweatshops employ lookouts to keep their business and the ages and living conditions of their workers private.
Head of Swarovski India, Sanjay Sharma said: 'Swarovski has become synomous with all that glitters in the garment industry and there are many copies on the market. We cannot control our goods being sold on to third parties and ending up in sweatshops. The government has to be responsible for dealing with this problem, not us. But investigations like this show that the whole industry needs to get together and fight against the problem of child labour.'
Company spokesman Julian Vogel added: 'Swarovski is not aware of, and does not authorise or condone, the use of child labour by any third party manufacturer or supplier, and Swarovski does not knowingly engage manufacturers or suppliers who do so.'
In the past few months Delhi police and labour department officials have conducted raids and rescued hundreds of minors from embroidery units using Swarovski crystals, but Manoj Kumar Singh said such raids barely scratch the surface. 'The police have to rely on rare tip-offs because it is difficult to track down child workers, with employers setting up small units in back alleys, where the children are hidden from public eye. But even before the search parties get to the factories the owners are tipped off and many of the children are cleared out.
'More daring unit owners even hide the children in sacks and in carefully concealed mezzanine floors designed to dodge such raids. All the children are carefully tutored to say they are older than they really are.'
An estimated 17 million children are working in India, most of them on farms or making carpets or firecrackers, but more and more in textiles. With increased global competition in textiles, particularly from China, child rights activists fear that the situtation will only get worse.
'The one thing India has to offer the global economy is some of the world's cheapest labour and the horrors that arise from Delhi's 5,000 inadequately regulated garment factories, some of which are among the worst sweatshops ever to taunt the human conscience, are unspeakable and unreported,' said Professor Sheotaj Singh, co-founder of Dayanand Shilpa Vidyalaya, a rehabilitation centre and school for rescued child workers. 'Here in India we still suffer from the legacy of the colonial days. We consider the workers to be our slaves, and this belief is made all the easier by a supply of labour, in particular child labour, that is endlessly abundant.'
Unicef says it is a myth that sweatshops died out early this century. Spokeswoman Sarah Epstein said: 'One in 12 of the world's children are involved in the worst forms of child labour - in slavery, forced labour, armed combat, commercial sexual exploitation, in illicit activities and hazardous work including factory work and sweatshops. Such children are growing up alone and out of sight. They are missing their childhood.'In one crowded corner of Chandi Chowk, the main shopping area of Old Delhi, people in their thousands squeeze through alleyways crowded with rickshaw bi-cycles and porters carrying everything from ancient pots of spices to sheets of glass on their heads. Groups of old men - some in the orange robes of sunyasin, the fourth stage of a devout Hindu's life - meander through streets ringing small bells and clutching silver begging bowls draped in marigolds. Cows graze on rubbish. To this chaos, Delhi's women come to shop. 'It is all Swarovski, yes?' Puri asks a shopkeeper excitedly as her mother and sisters sit knee-deep in beautiful saris. 'It absolutely must be Swarovski, no fakes. How long did it take to finish the embroidery and put in all the sequins?' she asks the beleaguered shopkeeper. His reply satisfies everyone. 'Three months,' he says proudly, 'both pieces, the dupatta and the lengha.' The human cost of the beautiful dress is far from sight.
Are we feeling global yet? Outsourcing may have come to stay, but the conditions in which it is undertaken are surely amenable to change. We might wish to consider questions about the future to which IT/BPO employees are being invited to commit themselves, or how much of the work is cutting-edge, says Lata Mani. 23 February 2005 - All too often globalisation is invoked as though it were a rallying cry with the potential to inspire national economic growth, consumer aspiration and new forms of lifestyle, with the accent on the style. However, globalisation is no virtual phenomenon. It is a set of concrete processes with real-time effects on our lives. And it is precisely in this tension between the idea of globalisation as representing an onward and upward march toward economic prosperity and the material implications of globalisation as lived experience that we observe the contradictions of the present moment even for those regarded as key beneficiaries, namely, those in Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing. Despite differences within as well as across the IT and BPO segment, I consider the two as a whole here, since my interest is in certain problems that cut across the industry.
Alongside the print media glorification of the lifestyle of those in IT/BPO (often treated as if it were a distinct social category of hard workers and big spenders) there have been increasing reports of employee dissatisfaction with conditions of work. (See for example, Vinita A. Shetty, "Silicon City Sweatshops?" Bangalore Times, January 17, 2005.) These include the deleterious consequences of long working hours, constant deadlines, night shifts, and the shrinking of social and leisure time. Quality of life issues seem to outweigh the question of the much envied and remarked upon high levels of remuneration. A working environment geared to "delivering no matter what" has led to complaints that even leave to attend to family emergencies have required negotiation or struggle. Additionally, those in customer care face the hostility of the very persons for whose comfort accents are altered, false identities are created, and most Indian holidays are forgone.
There are several indications that these problems are evident enough to be of concern to employers. For one thing, the problem of attrition is widely acknowledged by industry analysts. In IT the attrition is primarily in a lateral direction as employees seek better prospects in other companies. In the case of call centers, however, employees frequently leave in order to return to earlier plans for higher education or professional training. To the chagrin of their BPO employers, many do not regard these as career jobs, no matter how impressive their salary or designation ('customer care officer,' 'call center executive').
Second, a three day BPO job fair held in Mysore at the end of December 2004 attracted a mere 400 odd persons and not the thousands that were expected. (Indeed the opening had to be postponed by a day since it met stiff competition from the police department which was also hiring.) Asked to respond to the poor turnout, one of the organisers argued that lack of awareness about the career potential of these jobs was chiefly responsible, as also the impression that these jobs were stressful and involved night shifts. We will return below to the issue of such reconstruction of fact as misimpression.
Third, the consequences of working in the high pressure environments of the IT/BPO industry have been the substance of a number of newspaper stories. Even The Times of India, which tends to be ardent in its support of globalisation, has recently carried several items on such issues as entry level software employees describing sweatshop like conditions, burnout among young professionals, and employees' worries about the cumulative effects on their health of their relentless schedules.
Human relations personnel in the industry have, at times, dismissed such stories as the complaints of a minority. However, it is clear from reading employment supplements that this is not the case. For here too one finds an increasing number of articles addressing various dimensions of stress, overwork and the negative impact on productivity of a lack of balance between work, rest, leisure and family life. It would appear that the very conditions imposed on people in the industry are yielding diminishing returns for employers.
Jobs for IT/BPO are at times advertised as though they are principally about fun, glamour and a global lifestyle. It is as though each company is selling an idea as much as it is recruiting personnel for specific positions.
Many of these articles offer advice on how to survive the challenge of this kind of high pressure work environment. Typically the counsel is addressed to individuals while the system itself is left unexamined. For the most part one cannot quarrel with the advice they contain: "take deep breaths," "stretch," "think about something other than the project," "exercise," and "get enough sleep." But it all sounds more apposite as tips for getting through short term crises than as strategies by means of which to survive a system geared to constantly cutting costs while increasing speed of delivery. In this regard it is interesting to take note of recent statements in the business pages about Bangalore becoming too expensive an outsourcing location on account of high salaries and rising real estate prices. The very changes brought about in part by the outsourcing boom now make Bangalore an undesirable outsourcing destination. Are we moving into a phase where even the high salaries that are supposed to compensate for long hours and stress are likely to be trimmed back?
Further testimony that these are industry issues, not merely the grumblings of an unmotivated minority, may be found in job advertisements for the IT/BPO sector. What is fascinating is how the very themes noted above figure in many advertisements in oblique and not-so-oblique ways. For instance, a hoarding for a UK based retail company shows a smiling female employee stating she dreams of retail during the day and sleeps soundly at night. The copy (which I am paraphrasing here) cleverly condenses several interrelated elements into a single sentence in the effort to distinguish this employment opportunity from others in this segment.
To begin with there is the obvious reference to companies that require one to service customers in time zones more challenging to one's body, mind and sleep habits. Further, in setting up a contrast between dreaming on the job and sleeping soundly at night, the copy implicitly refers to several problems endemic to this sector, even as it claims their irrelevance in this case. First, there is the ubiquitous problem of overwork and sleep deprivation. Second, there is the challenge of work that follows one home and even pervades one's sleep. This is a poignant issue for those required to take on a separate identity and accent at work, many of whom speak of identity confusion on and off jobs and recurrent nightmares. Finally, dreaming on the job implies an unhurried pace of work. This is again something that conditions often preclude. In the case of IT there are ever present deadlines. In call centers one is required to be on the phone continuously and there may even be such benchmarks as the optimum number of minutes per call. Anything but relaxed is probably a more accurate description.
Night shifts are obviously unpopular, for jobs requiring them bury this thorny fact deep in the body of the advertising copy. The advertisements invoke an abstract notion of "career", one that is frequently inversely related to the skills required by the job. Thus, one company requiring only fluency in English and a Bachelors degree from its applicants has its model saying she wishes to start "at the top." "At the top," it turns out, refers not to her but to the multinational companies serviced by this employer. In marked contrast with other industries, advertisements for call centers rarely describe the actual work to be performed. (Could this be a way of side-stepping the often repetitive nature of the job?) They focus instead on the client list of the company in question, presumably implying that the reputations and financial earnings of clients somehow imply a like future for those who undertake technical support or customer assistance for them.
In another inversion of things as they really are, jobs for IT/BPO are at times advertised as though they are principally about fun, glamour and a global lifestyle. These ideas take up as much space in the layouts of advertisements as the details of jobs available or qualifications required. It is as though each company is selling an idea as much as it is recruiting personnel for specific positions. Examples here would include a retailer leading off a job advertisement with its recreational facilities and an IT company featuring a woman relaxing on a pier with a keyboard on her lap framed by copy promising "java, clear skies and fresh air." It is as though in the face of a "work, work, work" ethic, companies in this sector have decided to accent its opposite, the idea of leisure, pleasure and fun-filled challenge as integral to life in IT and BPO.
It is important to note that the credibility of my analysis does not depend on the avowed intention of the copy writer or the company executives responsible for advertising vacancies. Advertisements do not merely create images but also rely on the interpretive competence of their primary target audience. In so doing, they offer us a window on the issues and concerns businesses consider important to address. Clearly quality of life and conditions of work are real issues. Reading advertisements against the business and city pages of newspapers illustrates how the former frequently remakes facts reported in the latter in marketing an image that is at odds with reality.
Outsourcing may have come to stay, but the conditions in which it is undertaken are surely amenable to change. We might wish to consider questions about the future to which IT/BPO employees are being invited to commit themselves. Is it worth expending one's youth and/or health in this way? How long can one's work routines distort the organic balance between mind and body, sleeping and waking, focusing and relaxing before we trigger a psychological or physiological collapse? It should be noted that I have not addressed here the consequences for the rest of the city and its populace of the 24/7 schedule and of the outsourcing boom. That is a story equally in need of narration.
It is also worth pondering how much of the work in the outsourcing sector is truly cutting edge and how much clerical in nature or maintenance in function. The point is not that the latter kinds of work are undignified, but whether service or tedious work is being falsely represented as executive in nature and whether the conditions of work befit the inherent dignity of employees. The answers to such questions lie in the material conditions of work. By this I do not mean the air conditioning, landscaping, gyms and other facilities (the lifestyle indices, as it were), but the nitty gritty of the organization of work- work load, expectations of hours put in, business culture etc. The former cannot compensate for the latter except in the idealised world of advertising or in the abstract promises of the cheer leaders of globalisation.
SAN FRANCISCO-BASED retailer Gap, more than 200 of whose 2000 suppliers of garments are from India, has given them a big Diwali bonus. But it is a cruel one.
Acting on an expose in the British newspaper, The Observer, about conditions in the tiny factories of its sub-vendors, Gap has decided to recall goods sourced from a Delhi-based supplier. The hand-stitched blouses intended for sale in GapKids stores across the United States and Europe, were allegedly produced by child labour. “As soon as we were alerted to this situation, we stopped the work order and prevented the product from being sold in stores," said Marka Hansen, president of Gap, North America.
A couple of weeks previously, Gap had pulled up another Indian supplier, Texport Overseas, based at Bangalore, after reports of the death of a woman worker on duty. Later, it was clarified that she had a brain tumour. With loud controversies in global media about its Indian vendors doing damage to its brand, the MNC is expected to rethink on doing business with India. It has already launched an investigation as to how work was being “parceled out to unauthorized sub-vendors.”
The British newspaper had printed pictures of youngsters making clothes for other children like themselves and revealed that they were employed in a "derelict industrial unit" with an overflowing toilet. It said such sweatshops were common in India and questioned the ethics of Gap. Obviously it was with the help of romantic homegrown social workers that the story was filed. Crusaders from the affluent West, who think it is “the white man’s burden” to protect the interests of poor Asians, have been often been joined by our own crusaders. But, do the impoverished children need their crocodile tears?
Activists and police, following the report, raided the “sweatshops” in Delhi, which were in full swing to execute heavy Christmas/New Year orders. They found 14 boys, aged up to as low as 10 years, embroidering sequins on saris. A majority of them were from the impoverished State of Bihar. In further raids, police caught another 77 child workers. “We are taking down their addresses, so that they can be sent to their parents," a police official said after a swoop.
After the rescue, what? That is too uncomfortable a question for romantic activists who “rescue” such children. For, the children are set free to go home to Bihar only to starve along with their family!
Laws are on paper in India prohibiting children under 14 from working in "hazardous" professions, covering 13 occupations and 57 processes. Garment, mining, hospitality and domestic sectors are in the list. However, these laws only help several thousand government inspectors to collect their pay and perks from the exchequer and the inevitable routine bribe from employers. It is open knowledge that Indian labour force includes between 75 and 90 million children. That is the inevitable result of stark reality of poverty in rural India, even as the media and political leaders go bonkers over India having more billionaires than China!
According to official figures, 12 million pre-teens work as domestic helps, in roadside eateries and in factories. According to anti-child labour activists, the figure is more than 60 million. The textile and garment industry itself employs about 44 million people. A high-profile good Samaritan of the Save the Childhood Foundation, Bhuwan Ribhu, basking in the glare of TV cameras, said that a few dozen children had already been “rescued” and claimed that his organisation works to rehabilitate child workers.
Activists and the media have a habit of going to town quite regularly to create a scare about the “appalling conditions” that the labourers work in. Apart from triggering shock and chest beating at the horror, all that these campaigns create is a scare that puts a temporary brake in the output of these factories. Yes, they also hike the bribe amount payable to inspectors!
In a separate development, the media in the West has gone to town about the “dark side of Dubai’s economic boom exacting harsh human toll.” Our own “conscientious” intellectuals and organisations have joined it. Any number of reports have been published that migrant labourers in the UAE live in squalid labour camps, work under poor safety standards and do forced overtime to eke out a living. The labourers are supposedly finding it all but impossible to send money home. A culmination of the campaign occurred at the Sonapur labor camp on the outskirts of Dubai this weekend.
Instigated by the good Samaritans, labourers in Jabel Ali project in Dubai resorted to what they are used to at home: demonstrate noisily. "We are on strike ... We want better salaries," said one Indian laborer as he stood at the gate of Sonapur labor camp on the outskirts of Dubai. He was part of a group of over 4000 labourers, who were detained for staging protest at Jebel Ali. A senior Labour Ministry official in Abu Dhabi had warned that all violent protestors would be booked and deported. The workers were so frustrated over pay and poor living conditions that they did not pay much heed.
Of course, it is not a pleasant experience to be a construction worker in the Gulf. Workers have to toil for long hours under the blazing sun in the desert emirate. Temperatures exceed 45 degree Celcius in the summers, and humidity is stifling for most of the year. Big crowds of laborers have to wait for long hours after work at the sites to get their turn to board buses that take them to far away camps. The distant accommodation is engulfed in dust and they get only a few hours of sleep before queuing up again for shuttling back to work.
But, has anybody stopped to ponder over the condition that construction workers back home live in? How much do they get, even during the current boom condition? It is common sight to see several families huddling together inside big concrete pipes by the roadsides. They have to cook their food in the open and cannot have a full meal more than once daily. Most of them even do not have this type of “roof” over their head.
Some 1.5 million Indians live in the UAE, more than half of them in Dubai. Abu Dhabi accounts for 300,000 and the rest live in the other five emirates. Most of them do manual labour in the booming construction industry. Quite a lot of them had entered the country illegally because of the penury and lack of opportunities back home. In June, the UAE government had announced an amnesty scheme for all foreign workers. They could either regularise their status or could leave the country without serving a jail term, according to the law, or paying penalty. The government even offered a free one-way ticket. Except for workers, who had been there long enough to remit substantial money back home, not many availed it.
Political elements among these veterans have been inciting the labourers that UAE has been prospering only by underpaying them. Illiterates, hailing mostly from Rajasthan, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, were encouraged by these “good Samaritans” to go on strike to bring work projects that includes world’s tallest building to a grinding halt.
After the protest and the indignation raised by the international media, the construction company has posted a notice at the entrance of Sonapur camp – a three-storey concrete structure rented by it. The company promises that two doctors will start visiting the accommodation regularly. It has also undertaken to pay for the cost of air conditioning and cooking gas. "There is no mention of hike in salaries,” fumes an Indian worker. “We only want Dh 900 for unskilled workers and Dh 1200 from Dh 500 and Dh 700.” In neighboring building housing workers from another company, 24-year-old Bangladeshi laborer Mahmud Jaui complains that his Dh 500 monthly wage is barely enough to live on. He says, "Company does not provide us with food or water. We drink tap water."
Dubai Police chief, Dhahi Khalfan Tamim finds the charges amusing. He wants to know if these labourers had ever entered an air-conditioned space back home, where womenfolk trek several miles daily to fill their pots from open water bodies. He is keen to throw out the 4000 protestors out of the country.
Talmiz Ahmed, Indian ambassador to UAE, has managed to defuse the situation. Khaleej Times quoted him, "The matter is being resolved amicably." He clarified that only those workers against whom the police had firm evidence of having indulged in violence and causing damage to public and private properties would be prosecuted by the authorities. Other Indian workers would have the option to either stay on in Dubai and continue to work for the local contracting company, or else leave their job voluntarily and return to India.
According to the ambassador’s formula, labourers not desiring to quit have to furnish an affidavit and swear that they will not indulge in any such illegal activities and will fulfill all their contractual obligations. However, Dhahi Khalfan Tamim is categorical, "We have firm evidence against those workers who indulged in violence and they will all have to face legal action." The police reportedly had filmed some of the workers inciting violence, and those workers would be deported even if they gave an affidavit.
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has urged the authorities to ensure that the right of protest of the workers be acknowledged. Deporting the workers trying to protect their rights by themselves is unacceptable, it said. But such statements are only for the consumption of desk-bound officials at meetings. While one Dubai official said 4000 strikers would be deported, another denied any move to a mass deportation.
Politicians back in India have started looking for obtaining mileage out of the plight of the Dubai labourers, caught between the devil and deep sea. Chandrababu Naidu, reputed to have made a Cyberabad out of Hyderabad, proved that basically he is a politician. He criticised the UPA Government that it has no humanitarian outlook and has been behaving irresponsibly in respect of rescuing the Gulf returnees, victims and their families. Naidu wants a special package for the returnees. As for the victims of Andhites, who committed suicide after falling prey to the allurements of Gulf agents, Naidu wants Rs 3 lakh to be paid ex-gratia to the next of kin, government employment to their children and allotment of ‘pucca’ houses! Interestingly, several MPs of his Party are facing charges of involvement in human trafficking!
Let us face it. Why are the labourers so keen to go to the desert, knowing fully well the conditions there? Is it not because they have no opportunities back home even to get basic necessities of life? Can “humanitarian outlook” alone ensure that the children of these unfortunate labourers be fed and educated and not made to land up as child labourers in sweatshops? The only alternative to prevent the tragedy is to dump all sorts of ideologies that come in the way of job creation. Till then, people will pay lakh of rupees to agents, MLAs and MPs to get them smuggled out of the country.
Let us face it yet again. It is indeed appalling to visualise the nimble fingers of a 10-year-old handling needles for hours together. But, does it make sense to see him/her digging on garbage heaps for food or begging on the streets? In all probability, soon after being sent back to their parents in Bihar, the lads will end up in another sweatshop, perhaps for a lesser wage because they will have to learn the work all over again.
Dignitaries like Kailash Satyarthi and Bhuwan Ribhu, who derive immense satisfaction after their rescue operations under media glare, may answer that it would be better to die than having to subsist on labour as a child! The question is, are they doing any good to their supposed beneficiaries.
Changing Ethos of Mumbai – Sweatshops ??????
SWEAT shops and glass houses, are the new inheritors — the factory sirens that symbolised Mumbai's limitless potential for employment and a better life have fallen silent and the mill chimneys that rose proudly over the city's chawls are now simply shabby neighbours to fancy giants housing hyper malls and call centres.
It is not simply the skyline that has changed. It is the very ethos of a city that spelt `fighting spirit'. Older workers like Vasant Dandekar are convinced that even Mumbai's remarkable record of being safe for women travelling alone at night was linked to its working class progressive norms brought about through political and social consciousness. "The late night shift mill workers returning home were a reassuring presence. Alas, it is no longer so."
The over two lakh mill workers primarily along with the 1.25 lakh civic workers, the postal employees, dock workers, Government employees gave the city its politically conscious, ever-ready-to-protest image. The powerful public sector bank employees and officers' union too are a familiar part of the city's labour consciousness, proud of their role in winning for all an eight-hour working day. But for all these sections, dwindling numbers, competing private contractors, voluntary retirement schemes and freeze on recruitment have meant a dimming of their influence and prominence.
"There is a drastic reduction in secure, regular jobs," says Mr N Vasudevan of the Blue Star Employees Federation. "You can get jobs but they are in the shifting, contractual and unorganised sectors. This mean long hours and low pay in the sweatshops like garment and diamond cutting units and long hours and impossible targets in air-conditioned, plush offices like private banks, insurance companies and call centres. It is sweat shops or glass houses."
The courier industry is growing at a phenomenal rate in the city with a one-lakh strong workforce of mostly young under graduates who are ill-paid and work long hours for the subcontractors of the well-known courier companies, he adds.
But insecurity is now no longer a question of being in the low-paid segment. At a foreign bank recently, all the young executives had to appear at in-house interviews where they were told to convince the panel why fresh recruits should not replace them. And increasingly, appointment letters no longer carry familiar words like provident fund cuts, bonus hikes and permanent tenure.
As far as the island city is concerned, there is no longer even a pretence at debate over conversion of vast mill lands into corporate offices, pubs and bowling alleys. The only time the media takes note is when one more mill worker, unable to find employment anywhere else, commits suicide. Mr Suhas Abhyankar of the Hindustan Lever Employees' Union says that the exodus of workers from Mumbai's central areas is towards the Vasai-Virar belt because it houses a large complex of small-scale industries.
In the suburbs, especially the north eastern area stretching from Kurla to Mulund, many of the sprawling engineering and pharmaceutical factory premises are now either sites of huge residential complexes or are awaiting conversion to malls and multiplexes. The Kurla plant of Premier Automobiles now has a shadow of the 10,000 strong workforce of 15 years ago, Kamani Tubes which made history with a workers' takeover in the late 1980s is now desolate as is the Kurla plant of Mukand Company, the land on which the sprawling Consolidated Pneumatic Tools stood is the site of a multi-storeyed complex and sudden appearance of the glass and neon lit R-mall, Nirmal Lifestyle and McDonald outlet at Mulund in the midst of a drab industrial skyline is a portend of things to come.
In the last three years across the State, 18,000 industrial units were shut down throwing 3,25,000 workers into joblessness. In 2000, 4,641 units were closed down. In 2002, another 6,739 downed shutters. Out of the 8,425 units in Mumbai, Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts, 1,402 closed down in 2002. Veteran trade unionist Mr D Thankappan says that nearly 30,000 workers from Mumbai's pharmaceutical companies have been forced to move away from the city when their companies shifted. So where do these workers' and their families seek alternate employment? Small scale industries or self-employment such as driving autorickshaws, hawking consumer and household goods, running wada-pau stalls and `dabba' services.
It is no wonder then that for 750 vacancies in the rank of police constable 15,000 short listed candidates turned up at the Police Gymkhana at Marine Drive in February this year. Among those who sat through the 6-hour exam were post-graduates and engineering graduates
However, for the English-medium educated young graduate, all roads lead to the call centres and hyper malls. Despite the criticism that young people working here are forced to adopt phoney American and British accents, pick up a veneer of telephone etiquette and even shallower layer of `social progressiveness', call centres have lost none of their appeal.
Prashant Sabnis in his early 20s, works a nine-hour shift at a well known coffee and pastry outlet in south Mumbai. Thrice a week he attends classes for a diploma in catering and has enrolled in the Mumbai university's distance education B.Com degree course. There are thousands of young people like Pashant working in the city's fast food joints and shopping malls. The pay usually ranges from R 5,000 to 10,000 a month. Almost all are graduates, work long punishing hours and are aware that they have to save for a `further' degree that will get them a `better and more secure' job.
"Most of my students who work have fathers who have taken voluntary retirement", says college lecturer Ms Anuradha Kalhan. Since the inflation and abysmal interest rate eats into the VRS amount, the eldest child finds call centres and malls good sources of fee and pocket money.
Twenty-three year old Drayton Fernandez worked for a call centre for five months until he `simply could not take it anymore'. Initially, he enjoyed the feel of a monthly pay packet of Rs 11,000 so soon after graduation. "Every two weeks, we had to do the long shift (11.30 pm to 8 am) alternating with the short one (6.30 pm to 11.30 pm). Every time there was a shift change, my digestion would play up and I would be miserable. I found I had no time for anything except sleeping and then rushing to get to work," he says.
The more calls you handle the higher the incentives. There is a 15-minute break every three hours and a half hour meal break. `Monitoring' takes place from the country the outsourcing is coming from. These `monitors' listen in on the extensions to how you are handling the call as do the Indian team coaches or supervisors. "I found it stressful but there are many who enjoy themselves."
Jayashree Shukla says she enjoyed her stint in two call centres, though she gave it up after a year. "There is the hip-hop crowd which just cannot handle the money and the serious ones who really save up for higher studies. We even had colleagues who were 50 plus. Most of them had taken voluntary retirement and were focused on simply earning the money for may be two or three years and then quitting." Call centres have a 30 to 40 per cent attrition rate.
But perhaps the less acknowledged impact of the last decade's increasing job losses and insecurity has been the loss of a well-defined role for the trade union leader, once Mumbai's familiar trademark
Metal Macabre and Designer Sweatshops
Dark, ghost-like figures in tatters, moving back and forth into the metal polishing machines. Exiled, stunningly condemned in the era of globalisation, with no human rights. Shankar Ramaswami captures the hellish life of workers in an American-owned metal factory in Delhi
When i first came to the metal artware polishing factory of Michael Aram Exports Pvt Ltd, B-156, DDA Sheds, Okhla Industrial Area Phase I, New Delhi, in the winter of 2001, the things I witnessed were disturbing. Dark, ghost-like figures in tatters, with dhoti scraps covering the head and face, undulating back and forth into the polishing machines, pushing and pressing finely designed steel pieces onto the buffs, pausing only momentarily to gaze down at microscopic imperfections under the gloomy and dim fluorescent light, wiping the cascading sweat intruding into the eyes, tightening the grip of their ripped gloves, and hurling themselves again into the machines. It was a strange, rhythmic, pulsating danse macabre of brute force and subtle grace. The deafening subterranean whirring of a poorly constructed pollution exhaust fan and ducting system did little to clear the thick, malodorous, grayish-black haze of metal dust, debris, and buff fibres looming on the shopfloor, yet forced workers to absurdly shout at each other even at half metre distances that separated them at the machines. It’s stark, the barren and desolate expressions of the young, childlike helpers who monotonously apply abrasive emery powder to leather polish buffs by hand, using crude and noxious adhesives made of beef and pork fat, in preparation for the polishing process. The constantly watchful and prodding presence of the foreman, pacing and patrolling behind the polishers, ceaselessly demanding more pieces, more speed, more shine. These artware pieces are, after all, destined for the highest-end department stores, galleries, hotels, and museums of America. At the end of 12 hours of this hell, these blackened, grimy and emaciated bodies, marred with scars and injuries to the limbs from polishing work and worn down by austere diets, digestive disorders and respiratory illnesses, cram into a 3’ by 3’ by 6’ single person latrine to scrub away the sedimented remains of the day, using carefully conserved fragments of an abrasive, cheap 555 detergent soap, given once a week in the factory. It was the horror of it all, along with the very palpable, unrelenting resistance to this horror — in humour, in individual defiance, in micro-collective struggle — that kept me coming back to this place. Over the course of four years, as I came to know these 50 migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand, along with their families, residing in cramped, tension-ridden, 100 square feet rooms in urban villages and jhuggi colonies of outer Delhi, I was deeply educated by their knowledge, wisdom and insight into the fine, complex contours and topographies, not merely of steel pieces but of the social, political, and ethical structures of the factory, the neighborhood, the family, the village, and the modern society as a whole. These workers, I discovered, are poets, philosophers, and sages, however riven with ordinary weaknesses, distortions, and unrealised potentialities. Today these worker-philosophers are out on the streets of Delhi, conducting silent, non-violent placard protests against the activities of the Michael Aram Exports management which has denied them work since March 2005 (due to an inter-partner dispute), stopped their wages since September 2005, and at present, is seeking to coldly and illegally terminate them. Meanwhile, Michael Aram, a super-rich American designer, is conducting the very same metal export work in a neighbouring new factory at C-109, Okhla Industrial Area Phase I, under a different company name, Michael Aram Designs. These workers, now 18 in number (along with the widow of a worker killed in the course of filing a request for payment of wages in the Labour Court), are asking to be absorbed into the new unit, so that they may continue their livelihoods in a legal, secure, and dignified manner, rather than be re-cast yet again into the vast and widening ocean of hyper-exploitative casual and contract work. It remains to be seen whether Aram, presently residing in America, will choose to learn something from these unusual workers about respect, decency and dignity, and rehabilitate these workers back into the hellish world of metal polishing.
The writer is doing PhD on ‘Lives and Longings of Metal Workers in Delhi’, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago
Dec 31 , 2005
Indian NGO’s site
Written codes of conduct have a long history in the business community, usually taking the form of a statement or set of rules guiding ethical business practices. A significant evolution occurred in 1991 with the development of the first code of conduct on labor practices in suppliers, the independent business partners that supply a brand name company with products or services. This pivotal event introduced a landmark concept, that private companies should ensure consistent application of human rights norms to workers no matter where they do business and no matter whether they directly own the operation or not.
Workplace codes of conduct, begun over a decade ago and now used by hundreds of multinational companies, arose from an awareness of the poor working conditions that exist in manufacturing. Over the last decade, awareness has spread to a worldwide audience and there is no longer a question about whether a brand should adopt a code, but instead, the question is which standard to adopt and how to best apply it. Codes of conduct typically set guidelines on issues including child labor, forced labor, working hours, discrimination, freedom of association, and health and safety. They sometimes incorporate policies on environmental practices or security in shipping.
The field of code of conduct compliance has grown steadily and today there is a full array of audit services, information management tools, and training resources available to companies that wish to better manage supply chain relationships. This report examines the business reasons for implementing a code of conduct and notes important recent developments that buyers and suppliers should keep in mind.
Companies have found that adopting and enforcing a code of conduct can yield the following practical business benefits:
Protect brand reputation: The reputation of a company and its brands is a valuable asset that requires protection. More now than ever, consumers are examining and judging whether corporate practices are ethical. This includes practices of suppliers, whether wholly owned or independent, that are part of the value chain that provides profit to the brand. As trust in the private sector plummets, evidenced by a 2002 Gallup poll of 46 countries in which national legislatures and companies were the institutions least trusted by society, consumers are asking companies to demonstrate that working conditions are safe and fair, particularly in developing countries. Codes of conduct are typically based upon compliance with local law and are also associated with international norms such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) covenants. When they are applied consistently and universally codes may help protect brand reputation by aligning business partner behavior with accepted norms.
Increase reliability, trust, quality, and productivity: Experienced brands suggest that their best business partners have reliable delivery times and dependable quality – and manage code compliance well. The management and communication systems that enhance productivity and quality also enhance workplace conditions and give factory management the information they need to build a successful business. It is increasingly common to hear that code of conduct programs have helped businesses simultaneously improve areas such as quality and efficiency and build greater trust with the buyer as a result.
Strengthen legal compliance and reduce future risk and liability: Codes are designed for universal implementation. In locations of lax legal enforcement, this is challenging, but still useful for identifying desirable, committed, and forward-thinking business partners. Good labor standards may reduce the risk of future liability, in case laws are enforced or governments launch campaigns targeting industry. Workers themselves may seek redress for legal violations, as in the case of workers in the Northern Mariana islands who formed a class action lawsuit against several US-based brands and retailers.
Reduce negative publicity, increase ability to respond to crisis: Implementing a code of conduct may prepare a company to respond to an unexpected crisis. Codes may provide staff with guidelines on making appropriate decisions thereby avoiding risk and communicating values to business partners. Developing a code can provide a company with an awareness of issues that may arise and provides staff with relevant experiences to help guide its actions if something unexpected does occur. Most importantly, should negative publicity occur, having a code and relevant experience with the issues allows a company to refrain from taking a defensive posture, or offering an unsatisfactory reaction; instead, the company may respond in a principled, flexible, and proactive manner to address the core issues.
Increased media attention on overseas labor and environmental practices, a sustained and growing anti-sweatshop movement, debate over the impact on labor of the globalization of the economy and free trade agreements have propelled supply chain issues into the spotlight over the past few years. As a result, a wide range of stakeholder groups are encouraging the adoption and enforcement of codes of conduct. Developments on this issue include:
Consumer campaigns and organized labor call on companies to develop and monitor codes of conduct.
Labor and human rights advocacy groups around the world have launched campaigns calling on companies to develop and implement codes of conduct, and to establish mechanisms to monitor code compliance. As the number of codes expands, the campaigns are increasingly focused on situations where codes fail to protect workers, or fail to reach deep into the supply chain, or are insufficient in addressing management issues. Organizations responsible for launching campaigns are increasingly well-networked and frequently cooperate with one another to raise awareness around the world. A notable recent campaign, conducted by Oxfam, is a global effort called Make Trade Fair (www.maketradefair.com/). It presents an analysis of how the current international trade system may disadvantage workers and developing countries. It asks consumers to put pressure on governments, companies, and multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization. The Internet facilitates global campaigns and many activist organizations have Web sites devoted to targeting the labor practices of particular companies or industries. See the Resources sections on Labor Organizations and Activist and Religious Organizations for information on groups.
Companies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and organized labor collaborate on developing consensus concerning labor standards. Manufacturing note that compliance with codes of conduct is increasing difficult, as many factories are asked to follow several codes simultaneously, each of which may have small variations. In extreme cases, factories may undergo audits 30 or 40 times in a year, leading to a tremendous drain of resources. In recognition of these practical concerns, and motivated by a desire to have independent standard-setting and verification, several cross-sector initiatives have brought together companies, NGOs, and organized labor with the goal of creating common global labor standards and transparent systems of implementation. These initiatives include the Fair Labor Association, the Ethical Trading Initiative, and SA8000. More detail is located in the Resources section under Cross-Sector Partnerships.
Trade associations develop codes of conduct.
In addition to cross-sector approaches, several trade and industry associations have created voluntary principles to help their members address consumer concerns. An apparel industry association created the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) program and the International Council of Toy Industries established its own Code of Business Practices. Examples are listed in the Resources section under Business and Trade Associations.
Garment Export Manufacturers Associations: Various export manufacturers’ associations have developed codes of conduct and educational programs for member companies in countries such as Bangladesh, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Malaysia, Saipan, and elsewhere. Vestex, the Apparel & Textile Exporters Commission in Guatemala, has a code of conduct and a program to assist members with implementation and certification.
Shareholder resolutions and dialogues with companies advocate third party monitoring of codes of conduct and a ban on particular countries of production. Activist shareholders have increased pressure on publicly held companies, chiefly through shareholder resolutions seeking the adoption or strengthening of codes of conduct in industries where they don’t exist such as oil and pharmaceuticals, as well as avoidance of countries with poor human rights records, notably Burma (Myanmar). One of the most active shareholder groups is the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (www.iccr.org/), but many other socially responsible investors also research issues, benchmark practices, and place pressure on companies. Two issues commonly requested related to codes of conduct is for companies to implement a living wage standard and employ independent monitoring firms. For additional groups, see the Shareholder Activism section in Resources.
Human rights organizations increase their focus on corporations. Global human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Human Rights First have focused increased attention on company action in recent years, including codes of conduct. Examples include:
1. Amnesty International has a Business and Economic Relations Network to coordinate country-level work on business and human rights. Amnesty developed Human Rights Principles for Companies and created global risk maps for various industries in conjunction with the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum. It supports the adoption of the UN Draft Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regards to Human Rights;
2. Human Rights Watch is urging the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. It has issued reports on relevant topics such as trafficking of child workers in West Africa, imprisonment of labor activists in China, and child labor in the silk industry in India;
3. Human Rights First participates in the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and supports several international efforts such as the UN Global Compact, International Right to Know Campaign, and US-UK Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. They have advocated on behalf of labor issues in Cambodia, China, Guatemala, and Jordan.
Companies going beyond compliance to address root causes. Legal compliance is the first step and the base of any code of conduct program, however, some companies are experimenting with other approaches that help workers and factory managers to assume more control over their workplace conditions. These programs include intensive technical training on safety issues, training and consulting to increase productivity, providing legal information and government contact information to workers, and encouraging the development of dispute resolution mechanisms in the workplace.
NGOs expanding their range of tools: from boycotts to cooperation. In select circumstances, activists will use boycotts as a final effort to force change in corporate practices, particularly in cases where they perceive that workers’ attempts to organize have been stifled. Some companies have been subject to consumer boycotts for alleged labor rights violations by their business partners on farms where their products are grown, such as the campaign against Taco Bell on behalf of tomato pickers. Others have been targeted for doing business in countries with poor human rights records such as Burma (Myanmar). NGOs are leery about boycotts, however, because of their harmful effects on workers. Instead the groups rely on a wider range of tactics such as supplying information to shareholders, alerting major customers to problems within their suppliers, and even cooperating with industry groups or multi-stakeholder initiatives to find better options for promoting good workplace standards.
Establishment of university licensee codes. An increasing number of major American universities have established codes of conduct for licensees that manufacture products bearing their university trademarks. Extensive campaigning by United Students Against Sweatshops helped to spur the first universities to adopt such programs, and today the idea of a code for licensees is widely supported amongst the leading institutions. Rather than create new codes of conduct, many universities have signed on to the Fair Labor Association and a large number support the Workers Rights Consortium.
Government and multilateral initiatives promote the development of codes of conduct.
US-EU Symposium: The Secretaries of Labor of the US and the European Union convened the first "US-EU Symposium on Codes of Conduct" in February 1998. Several US and European companies and NGOs discussed the effectiveness of codes in improving global working conditions.
France has an amendment to the law known as New Economic Regulations (NRE) that requires publicly-traded, French-listed companies to publish triple bottom line reports. The goal of the law is to give shareholders the right to information on a company’s financial, social and environmental performance. Reports must include information on key social points including working hours, wages, health and safety conditions and international labor standards in subsidiaries and subcontractors. The law does not provide a specific guideline for reporting. Reporting commenced in 2002 fiscal year reports.
The World Bank is studying barriers to implementation of codes of conduct. The first part of the study was released in October 2003 under the title "Strengthening implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility in Global Supply Chains." The second portion of the study, which will focus on the role of government will commence in spring 2004.
The US Department of State provides assistance to the International Labor Organization for code of conduct and labor standards programs in Cambodia and Bangladesh.
More industries involved than ever before. The apparel, footwear, football (soccer ball) and carpet industries were the first to adopt and implements codes. The use of codes has expanded to include other industries known to have particularly serious situations involving trafficked workers or dangerous work environments including: the cocoa industry in West Africa; the diamond industry (accused of funding conflicts); and the oil industry.
Increased focus on China. As the industrial output of China increases rapidly each year, there is a growing interest the working conditions in Chinese manufacturing facilities. There are concerns that China’s low prices are due in part to the exploitation of cheap labor, forced overtime hours and minimal investments in health and safety practices. NGOs and academic researchers are studying the rapidly growing Chinese workforce and the media is focusing increased attention on cases of labor strife and social unrest. Companies are taking a cautious approach to identifying business partners with acceptable labor practices, and the use of audits prior to placing orders is increasingly becoming routine.
In shaping a code, a company can access a variety of sources, ranging from local laws and regulations to internationally-accepted standards such as those set by International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. In most cases, companies have drawn from a combination of both, applying local laws on wages, benefits, documentation, required permits, and other local issues. Companies then rely upon international standards to provide principles such as limiting the hours of work, nondiscrimination in the workplace, and respecting freedom of association. On technical issues such as safety, companies often seek the highest known standard, which could be either legal or voluntary recommendations by respected industry organizations (for example, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists). The range of resources available includes the following:
International Labour Organization Conventions: The International Labour Organization (ILO), based in Geneva, is the UN-affiliated body that counts most nations as members. The ILO is a tripartite body (i.e., with official representation from business, government, and labor) that produces conventions on issues such as child labor, forced labor, nondiscrimination, and freedom of association. ILO conventions become national law when they are ratified or formally approved by national legislatures. ILO conventions have been used as the basis for many corporate codes of conduct.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The UDHR, the fundamental human rights benchmark, establishes principles on issues such as equal pay for equal work, equal protection under law, freedom of association, the right to own property, and non-discrimination. The UDHR is the basis of the work of international human rights organizations, as well as the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human rights conditions in all nations. Several of the rights established in the UDHR relate specifically to business.
Consensus standards or comprehensive standards systems: The following represent examples of consensus standards developed and agreed to by coalitions of companies and, in some cases, other stakeholder groups.
Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI): This UK-based system began as a multi-stakeholder initiative in 1998. Members agree to adhere to a Base Code of conduct and to share their experiences with other ETI members. Participants include The Body Shop, Chiquita International Brands, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Pentland Group, Safeway Stores.
Fair Labor Association (FLA): FLA members agree to adopt a Workplace Code of Conduct and monitoring protocol. This code is applied by companies in the FLA and has served as the basis for codes developed by other, non-participating companies. Participants include adidas, Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Nike, Nordstrom, Phillips Van Heusen, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Reebok.
Social Accountability 8000 (SA 8000): Social Accountability International (SAI) has developed a global standard for ethical sourcing, the Social Accountability 8000 (SA 8000). This factory certification system seeks to create an auditable code of conduct that can be applied across various industries. It includes a provision for wages to meet the “basic needs” of workers. Participating companies include Avon, Cutter & Buck, Dole Food, Eileen Fisher, Otto Versand, and Toys R Us.
Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production: Founded by the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, this code of conduct program is geared towards factories directly and provides education, auditing, and certification.
NGO Guidelines: Human rights groups, religious organizations and others have proposed human rights guidelines for business operations. Examples include:
The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of religious investors that assists shareholders in advancing resolutions on global labor issues, has developed a set of "Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility" recommending standards on human rights, labor rights, the environment and sustainable community development. One principle calls on companies to "withdraw from a country in instances where there are gross and systematic violations of human rights and where there is a recognized movement from within the country calling for withdrawal."
The Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) grew out of a U.S. university campus movement to force licensed university products to be made in accordance with a code of conduct. The WRC’s code of conduct is noted for having both the typical provisions of most codes, as well as special language on women’s rights in particular.
The Netherlands-based Clean Clothes Campaign, a consortium of European trade unions, human rights groups and development organizations, has created a model code of conduct for the apparel, footwear, and accessories industries. The code requires the payment of a living wage, and includes provisions on freedom of association.
Many codes of conduct are similar, generally incorporating the core ILO provisions, or at least the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work: freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; elimination of forced or compulsory labor; abolition of child labor and; elimination of discrimination. The following steps are key components to setting up a workplace code of conduct program:
Establish Code of Conduct policy: When considering the establishment of a workplace code of conduct, companies should consider their own business model and choose a policy that is feasible and consistent with the company’s values. One option would be to adopt an existing standard (see External Standards section above) or model the code after another company’s policy. Alternatively, a company may seek to write its own code, in which case a consultation with appropriate stakeholders is highly recommended. Generally, a Code of Conduct will need to have legal review and may need approval by the Board of Directors as part of its formal adoption.
Communicate Code of Conduct Internally and Externally: Internally, the policy must be communicated to company employees in all locations and functions. This often involves explanation of procedures and timelines for implementation. Externally, the code must be communicated to business partners such as contractors, suppliers or vendors, joint venture partners, licensees and agents. Ultimately, the code would ideally be communicated to workers in business partners’ facilities as well. The policy may be shared with the general public through the company Web site or annual report.
Conduct Training: Codes of conduct present universal principles, but their actual implementation is challenged by the local circumstances. To build appropriate expertise and awareness, companies often provide code of conduct training to staff in functions (such as purchasing, legal and quality assurance) and locations where human rights issues may arise. Likewise, suppliers have detailed questions about the practical implications of a code of conduct; therefore, training workshops, on-line resources, or printed materials are needed to train all of those responsible for the success of the program.
Audits: Once the program expectations have been communicated, the next step is verification, usually via auditing. Internal staff may conduct supplier audits or an external agency may be contracted to perform the service (see related issue briefs on Monitoring of Global Supply Chain Practices). After audits are completed, some form of feedback or corrective plan is devised and an ongoing cycle of auditing and improvements is carried out over time. The audit cycle time varies by risk, business importance, company resources, and severity of audit findings. In response to stakeholder concerns, some companies have pursued the idea of completely independent external audits, although such mechanisms are generally costly and require greater effort to arrange.
Technical Assistance: Suppliers may not have the resources needed to fully implement all corrective actions that result from the audit. A company can help marshal resources for suppliers, such as providing assistance via staff experts, identifying training opportunities, sharing best practices from other cases, or producing written guidelines for suppliers.
Enforcement: The audit and correction cycles function best when enforced. This includes penalties for noncompliance, such as a reduction in orders, temporary suspension, or ending the business relationship. Likewise, positive incentives are possible, such as using code compliance as one of the criteria for identifying "preferred vendors" or recognizing outstanding suppliers at annual meetings.
Sustainability: Once an audit system is functioning, companies often look for ways to reduce costs and improve success by encouraging suppliers to assume a higher level of responsibility for managing code compliance. The hope is that every business will achieve continuous improvement by measuring and improving from within. Under this scenario, auditing may occur less frequently and can focus more on systems review rather than searching for violations. To reach this goal, customers are asking for better accountability structures and are offering training opportunities to suppliers so that internal staff is better equipped to manage compliance.
These "leadership" practices have been chosen as illustrative examples in the area of corporate social responsibility addressed by this Issue Brief. They are intended to represent innovation, higher than average commitment, unusual industry practice or a comprehensive approach to this issue. Periodically, the examples listed may change. If you wish to share information about your company's leadership practices or policies, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. (Many of the company examples and policies cited in this report have been verified and approved. Final approvals for others are pending and information will be modified if necessary.)
In the past, simply having a written code of conduct was regarded as a best practice. Today, most major companies in a number of sectors –- most notably in apparel, footwear, toys, and retailers –- have developed codes and are at advanced stages of implementation, in some cases going "beyond compliance" to try to find the most effective means to raise workplace standards. Among the current "best practices" of code development and implementation are the following:
Chiquita has a code that is more comprehensive than most, as it includes a wide variety of ILO conventions. Most company codes parallel or directly reference conventions on prohibiting child labor, nondiscrimination, and prohibiting forced labor, while a few include the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Chiquita includes Convention 155 (Occupational Safety and Health), 159 (Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment/Disabled Persons), and Convention 177 (Home Work). It communicates its code of conduct to workers in a colorful, pictorial pamphlet that includes rights and responsibilities in local languages, taking into account workers’ educational levels.
Levi Strauss & Co.
Levi Strauss & Co. is widely credited with establishing the first comprehensive code of conduct in 1991, when it created the company’s Terms of Engagement for Foreign Business Partners. The TOE program has been constantly strengthened over time, and programs have focused heavily on training factories to build their internal knowledge and capacity. As a next step in its program, Levi Strauss is using an external agency to conduct intensive training of its own staff on culturally sensitive communication methods, with the goal of enhancing communications with workers. The company’s foundation has also supported research into supply chain labor issues as well as programs focused on legal and health education for migrant workers.
Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer has worked intensively with groups of suppliers in various countries to encourage the development of compliance related best practices within each country. In addition to providing technical information, Marks &anp; Spencer seeks to facilitate dialogues among the factories themselves so that they can develop indigenous solutions to workplace dilemmas. The Code of Conduct program tries to capture a two-way conversation and respond to supplier concerns.
Starbucks is piloting a set of principles known as the Coffee Sourcing Guidelines that focus primarily on environmental and core social issues and also incorporate labor standards in a code of conduct format. The Guidelines assign a point value for accomplishing various objectives, and compliance earns the right to earn a higher price for coffee. Participants can become Preferred Suppliers. This pilot program is the only known compliance initiative that offers better prices for better compliance.
The following are code of conduct provisions on specific labor issues from select companies. These examples are cited for illustrative purposes.
adidas-Salomon Standards of Engagement
HP Supplier Code of Conduct
Levi Strauss & Co. Global Sourcing and Operating Guidelines
Nike Code of Conduct
Sainsbury’s Ethical Code of Conduct
At this time there are no awards given to companies specifically for their codes of conduct. However, SAI, when conferring its Corporate Conscience Awards, has used codes of conduct as one of the criteria to evaluate efforts to eliminate sweatshop conditions and recognize companies that are effective and innovative in doing so.
The following list is not comprehensive. It is an illustrative group of the many nonprofit, public sector and/or academic resources working with the private sector in the area of corporate social responsibility addressed by this Issue Brief. The resources identified below have been included because they provide information or support that is relevant to companies, and they are national or international in scope. Periodically, the examples listed may be changed. At this time, the list does not include for-profit resources. If you would like to provide information about additional resources that meet our criteria, please contact email@example.com.
Multilateral and Government Organizations
International Labor Organization (ILO)
http://www.ilo.org/The International Labor Organization (ILO) is a United Nations affiliated agency that promotes social justice through the establishment of labor rights standards. A tripartite agency (workers, employers and governments participate as equal partners), the ILO formulates conventions on basic labor rights including child labor, freedom of association, forced labor, equality of opportunity and treatment, and other standards regulating working conditions. These conventions are incorporated into national law when ratified by ILO member states.
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
http://www.unhcr.ch/The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: (a) Promotes universal enjoyment of all human rights by giving practical effect to the will and resolve of the world community as expressed by the United Nations; (b) Plays the leading role on human rights issues and emphasizes the importance of human rights at the international and national levels; (c) Promotes international cooperation for human rights; (d) Stimulates and coordinates action for human rights throughout the United Nations system; (e) Promotes universal ratification and implementation of international standards; (f) Assists in the development of new norms; (g) Supports human rights organs and treaty monitoring bodies; (h) Responds to serious violations of human rights; (i) Undertakes preventive human rights action; (j) Promotes the establishment of national human rights infrastructures; (k) Undertakes human rights field activities and operations; (l) Provides education, information advisory services and technical assistance in the field of human rights.
United Nations Development Programme
http://www.undp.org/The UNDP works with other multilateral, government, corporate and civil society actors to address issues relating to democratic governance, poverty reduction, crisis prevention and recovery, energy and environment, information and communications technology and HIV/AIDS.
United Nations Global Compact
http://www.unglobalcompact.org/The Global Compact is a voluntary corporate citizenship initiative. As such, the Global Compact is not a regulatory instrument -- it does not "police" or enforce the behavior or actions of companies. Rather, the Global Compact relies on the enlightened self-interest of companies, labour and civil society to initiate and share substantive action in pursuing the principles upon which the Global Compact is based. The Global Compact is based on nine principles in the areas of human rights, labor, and the environment.
US Department of Labor – Bureau of International Labor Affairs
www.dol.gov/ilabILAB conducts research on and formulates international economic, trade, immigration, and labor policies in collaboration with other U.S. government agencies and provides international technical assistance in support of U.S. foreign labor policy objectives. ILAB is working together with other U.S. government agencies to create a more stable, secure, and prosperous international economic system in which all workers can achieve greater economic security, share in the benefits of increased international trade, and have safer and healthier workplaces where the basic rights of workers and children are respected and protected.
US Department of State -- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
www.state.gov/g/drlThe responsibilities of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) include formulating U.S. human rights policies and coordinating policy in human rights related labor issues. In addition, it coordinates the publication of U.S. State Department annual country reports that provide information on the exercise of various human rights.
http://www.worldbank.org/This institution is one of the largest sources of funds for economic development projects, with a stated objective of improving living standards and reducing the worst forms of poverty. It is owned and governed by more than 184 member states.
Human Rights Organizations
http://www.amnesty.org/Amnesty International (AI) campaigns worldwide to promote all the human rights embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards. AI campaigns to free all prisoners of conscience; ensure fair and prompt trials for political prisoners; abolish the death penalty, torture and other cruel treatment of prisoners; end political killings and "disappearances"; and oppose human rights abuses by opposition groups. Several Amnesty sections have business groups that encourage companies to be aware of the human rights context of the countries where they operate, to use their legitimate influence in support of human rights in those countries, and to support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
http://www.globalwitness.org/Global Witness is a non-governmental investigative organization working to expose the link between natural resource exploitation and human rights abuses. Revenue from trade in natural resources is a major source of funding of conflict and human rights abuses, and this link is central to Global Witness’ work. They seek to gather and disseminate information regarding environmental exploitation and its social, ecological and economic effects, in order that the links are understood by those who are in a position to effect positive change.
Human Rights First
http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) works to promote fundamental human rights through its focus on building legal institutions and structures that will guarantee human rights in the long term. The Committee holds governments accountable to the standards affirmed in the International Bill of Human Rights and represents asylum seekers and refugees.
Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org/Human Rights Watch conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in nearly 70 countries around the world and publishes reports on country- and issue-specific human rights concerns. While the organization has traditionally focused on human rights practices of governments, it has also turned its attention to the corporate sector as well.
American Center for International Labor Solidarity
http://www.fieldsofhope.org/The ACILS works with trade unions in over 50 countries to promote democracy and advance and strengthen the rights of workers.
Campaign for Labor Rights
campaignforlaborrights.orgCLR is a grassroots campaigning organization whose mission is to fight sweatshops and help local communities organize actions that promote this goal.
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
http://www.icftu.org/The ICFTU organizes and directs campaigns on issues such as the respect and defense of trade union and workers’ rights, the eradication of forced and child labor, the promotion of equal rights for working women, the environment, education programs for trade unionists all over the world, encouraging the organization of young workers, and sends missions to investigate the trade union situation in many countries.
International Labor Rights Fund
http://www.laborrights.org/>ILRF is an advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide.
National Labor Committee
http://www.nlcnet.org/The National Labor Committee, headed by activist Charles Kernaghan, was founded in 1981 and was one of the first NGOs to begin publicizing information about sweatshops in the mid-1990s, most famously breaking the story of Kathie Lee Gifford’s line of apparel. It researches and publicizes sweatshop practices that it detects in suppliers to U.S. companies.
http://www.uniteunion.org/Unite is the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, founded in 1995 by the merger of two historic garment workers’ unions in the U.S. It represents workers in several different industries, including apparel and textiles.
U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP)
http://www.usleap.org/US/LEAP is an independent non-profit organization that supports economic justice and basic rights for workers in Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico. US/LEAP focuses especially on the struggles of those workers who are employed directly or indirectly by U.S. companies making apparel and producing agricultural products.
Activist and Religious Organizations
Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC)
http://www.amrc.org.hk/AMRC is an NGO supporting democratic and independent labor movements in Asia. It provides research, publishes reports, and networks with labor groups across the region.
Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC)
http://http://www.cleanclothes.orgThe CCC is an advocacy organization that aims to improve working conditions in the garment and sportswear industry.
http://www.globalexchange.org/Global Exchange is a human rights activist organization dedicated to promoting environmental, political, and social justice around the world. It focuses on corporate responsibility, globalization and trade issues.
Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee
http://www.cic.org.hk/The Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee is an NGO that researches labor issues in China. Historically it has published reports on occupational health and safety and now focuses on the full range of code of conduct issues.
Labour Behind the Label
http://www.labourbehindthelabel.org/A U.K.-based network of organizations supporting the rights of garment workers worldwide, Labour Behind the Label cooperates and works with the Clean Clothes Campaign mentioned above.
http://www.oxfam.org/ and http://www.oxfam.uk.org/Oxfam International is a confederation of 12 organizations that work on economic development and relief in more than 100 developing countries. Oxfam UK has spearheaded work on fair trade campaigns and research into sweatshop issues in Asia.
http://www.sweatshopwatch.org/Sweatshop Watch is a coalition of organizations campaigning for an end to sweatshops globally, with a focus on California.
Thai Labour Campaign
http://www.thailabour.org/The Thai Labour Campaign is a Thailand-based nonprofit organization that promotes workers’ rights in Thailand.
Workers Rights Consortium
http://www.workersrights.org/The WRC is a non-profit organization created by college and university administrations, students and labor rights experts. The WRC’s purpose is to assist in the enforcement of manufacturing Codes of Conduct adopted by colleges and universities; these Codes are designed to ensure that factories producing clothing and other goods bearing college and university names respect the basic rights of workers.
Ethical Trading Initiative
http://www.ethicaltrade.org/The U.K. based Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) is an alliance of companies, NGOs and trade union organizations committed to working together to identify and promote best practices in implementing labor compliance efforts. The goal is to ensure that products entering the UK market are made at or above international labor standards.
Fair Labor Association (FLA)
http://www.fairlabor.org/The FLA is a non-profit organization (originally known as Apparel Industry Partnership) that combines efforts of industry, NGOs, and universities to promote adherence to international labor standards and improve working conditions worldwide. It was established to provide an independent monitoring system that would provide accountability for adherence to an industry-wide code of conduct.
Social Accountability International (SAI), SA8000
http://www.sa-intl.org/SAI (formerly known as the Council on Economic Priorities Accreditation Agency) developed a global standard, SA8000, to improve workplaces and combat sweatshops. It is a voluntary standard designed by a multi-stakeholder initiative that included companies, NGOs, and labor groups.
Shareholder Activism / Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)
As You Sow
Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia
Domini Social Investments
Dow Jones Sustainability Index
Henderson Global Investors
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
iccr.orgICCR's membership is an association of 275 faith-based institutional investors, including national denominations, religious communities, pension funds, endowments, hospital corporations, economic development funds and publishing companies. ICCR and its members press companies to be socially and environmentally responsible. Each year ICCR-member religious institutional investors sponsor over 100 shareholder resolutions on major social and environmental issues.
ISIS Asset Management
Investor Responsibility Research Center
Trillim Asset Management
Business and Trade Associations
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
http://www.business-humanrights.org/The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an independent, non-profit organization promoting greater awareness of business & human rights issues. Its Web site is an on-line library, updated almost daily, containing links to a wide range of materials on human rights as they relate to business.
Business for Social Responsibility
www.bsr.orgBusiness for Social Responsibility (BSR) is a US-based global resource for companies seeking to sustain their commercial success in ways that respect people, communities and the environment. Through membership in BSR, companies have access to practical information, research, education and training programs, technical assistance and consulting on all aspects of corporate social responsibility.
International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI)
www.toy-icti.org/whoarewe/responsibility.htmICTI is a nonprofit association that represents toy trade associations from around the world and promotes toy safety and quality standards. It has adopted a Code of Business Practices to govern conditions of manufacture.
Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF)
http://www.pwblf.org/The Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum works to promote socially responsible business practices that benefit business and society and which help to achieve social, economic and environmentally sustainable development.
World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI)
http://www.wfsgi.org/_wfsgi/new_site/about_us/codes/Code_conduct.htmWFSGI has adopted a model Code of Conduct that is voluntary for members and includes mention of environmental practice and community involvement. Members are encouraged to adopt and monitor their own codes of conduct.
Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production
http://www.bsr.org/CSRResources/www.wrapapparel.orgCreated by the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, the WRAP system certifies compliance with a code of conduct that includes labor practices as well as compliance with customs laws and security measures (anti-drug, anti-terrorism).
A Critique Of The Approach To The Eleventh Five Year Plan - II
Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Debdas Banerjee and Achin Chakraborty
MANY of the factors, which the Approach Paper identifies as constraints to faster growth are in fact ‘ideologically’ structured constraints. For example, the Approach Paper says:
“A key issue … is the need for greater flexibility in some of the labour laws. In particular, there is the need to consider appropriate amendments in Section V-B of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 to facilitate exit and Contract Labour (Abolition and Regulation) Act to give to the industry the flexibility necessary to compete in international markets”.
“The inflexibility of our labour laws may be denying us the opportunity to expand employment in the organised manufacturing sector.”
Is Planning Commission ignorant of the fact that not more than 9 per cent of the workforce engaged in manufacturing belongs to what otherwise is called the organised sector? Moreover, about 30 per cent of the workers in the organised manufacturing are now casual workers. Second, from the data in a particular state, which is ‘infamous’ for its political ideology, i.e., West Bengal, it is clearly evident that more than a quarter of the total workers directly employed – in the factories those were registered in 1985 and thereafter – have been in factories employing 100-500 workers (incidentally, these are the entities which are covered by Chapter V-B of the ID Act, 1947). New employment in newly registered factories with ‘up to 19 workers’, on an average, was about 16 per cent of the total new factory jobs. Larger numbers of jobs were created for the workers in the larger factories. Of the total number of new jobs created annually in the newly registered factories, on an average, 24 per cent has been in the size-class ‘20–49 workers’, 19 per cent in ‘50–99’, 26 per cent in ‘100–500’ and 14 per cent in ‘500 and above workers’ category of factories.
The pervasiveness of small firms however suggests other more universal forces at work. For example, less the urbanisation more the underdeveloped transportation networks tend to be, resulting in small and diffused pockets of demand that leads to small-scale localised production. Underdevelopment also breeds small firms. Demand for simple items like bread, apparel, footwear, metal products, and furniture are rather efficiently produced using non-factory methods of capital and labour combinations. There is little incentive to consolidate production in several large plants and incur the extra distribution costs (for the services of the highly organised intermediaries).
BECOMING A SWEATSHOP
While discussing the surge in the recent growth in the services sector Planning Commission comments: “The sector has the unique opportunity to grow due to its labour cost advantage reflecting one of the lowest salary and wage levels in the world”. Are we as Indians proud of, or feel ashamed having the lowest wage and salary in the world, leading to the ‘race to the bottom’ for the working people across the globe? Should we not make an endeavour to move toward an economy where the people with a decent/fair wage live with dignity? That the low wage has never been an advantage for India in the exports market excepting making the country the sweatshops of the developed North is amply evident in the trade statistics. In 1980, manufactures based on labour and natural resources constituted about 40 per cent of the total non-oil Indian exports. Thereafter the importance of these kinds of commodities in the Indian export-basket, instead of decreasing, rather increased to about 60 per cent in 2000. Ghana, India, Morocco and Turkey, among other developing economies, experienced the largest increase in the share of labour- and resource-intensive manufactures, while, between 1980-2000 countries like Taiwan and South Korea managed to pull down the importance of this product group, along with the drop in the share of primary commodities.
Several such ideology-laden statements one would find in the Approach Paper. For example, it says: “Several problems facing agriculture today are the direct result of distortions introduced by policy. The policy of providing free or highly subsidised power to agriculture for example, encourages excessive drawal of water contributing to a fall in the water table”. First of all, we would like to know what proportion of the irrigation pump-sets are connected to the grid power. Second, can we then infer that “the BPL ration cardholders eat more foodgrains than others”?
The Approach Paper has rightly diagnosed poor quality of instruction as the main problem of elementary education in India. However, the suggested solution does not seem to have emerged from a thorough understanding of the ground realities in India. As the paper rightly points out, one of the major causes of poor quality of learning is teachers’ lack of accountability and low level of motivation. Thus, ensuring good quality of instruction poses a difficult challenge. After suggesting that ‘authorising panchayats and citizens’ education committees to oversee teacher performance can help increase accountability’, the paper notes,
A more powerful method of enforcing accountability is to enable parents to choose the schools where they will send their children. Enabling people to choose between available public and private schools (by giving them suitable entitlements reimbursable to the school) and thus creating competition among schools could be considered.
The suggestion sounds like that of an over-enthusiastic undergraduate student of economics, who has just been introduced to the welfare consequences of a system of voucher vis-à-vis direct public production, responding to the instructor’s question to impress. While the instructor might be impressed by her pupil’s ready grasp of the course material, those who have a little experience with the state of school education in India will be struck by the downright absurdity of the suggestion.
‘Enabling people to choose between available public or private schools’ presupposes availability of more than one such school within a reasonable geographical distance. The voucher idea seems to have been ‘informed’ by the ‘fact’ that in India private aided and unaided schools account for 58 per cent of the total number of secondary schools. Introducing a voucher system in this context effectively means all private schools will be aided schools and the amount of aid will be in proportion with enrolment. Even if we accept the argument that a privately run school with government subsidy tagged to enrolment will provide the incentive to the school for expansion of enrolment, don’t we have to know how these schools are spatially distributed? At the moment, if I am living in a typical Indian village the nearest upper-primary or secondary school is roughly three kilometres away. My voucher would reimburse my tuition fees if I took admission in a ‘good’ private school. Where could I find it? It’s in the town, about forty kilometres from my home. The voucher is like winning a ‘trip’ to Singapore that reimburses only your airfare and you have to pay for your hotel bills and other expenses (which is roughly equal to your annual income, say). The idea that the voucher system can improve the quality of schooling in India reminds us of the economists’ joke in which a group of ship-wrecked people in an uninhabited island are trying to open a can and the economist among them suggests ‘let us assume we have a can-opener’. Surely, the Planning Commission must be joking.
What the textbooks do not write is that the governments have good reasons to find the system of voucher attractive as it allows them to make the transition from public provisioning to a complete pay-as-you-go system in a somewhat covert manner without much social resistance. First, it is shown (by logical deduction) that the welfare consequences of the voucher system are at least as good as direct public provisioning. The argument is that, in either system, the consumer is not paying or paying only a fraction of the cost, but in the voucher system the consumer enjoys the additional benefit of exercising her choice between different providers. People find it convincing. But the trick that any government will be tempted to do in practice is that the voucher amount will not be indexed to cost escalation, so that sooner or later the schools will start charging the parents to compensate for their ‘losses’. And this charge will rise over time, gradually turning the whole system into a virtually private one. In spite of repeated suggestions by World Bank enthusiasts very few countries in the developing world have attempted to introduce the system. The case of Colombia is rather curious. A voucher system was introduced in 1992, which offered vouchers to entering sixth grade students residing in low-income areas and who had previously attended a public school. The voucher program was designed to help poor students make the transition to secondary school in areas where public schools were filled to capacity. The value of the voucher was initially high enough to pay for tuition at low-cost private schools, but it was not indexed to price escalation, and as a result, in a couple of years’ time, students’ parents were typically making out-of pocket payments equal to the voucher value to cover tuition costs. Most elite private schools in Colombia even decided not to accept the vouchers. The voucher system in Colombia covered only one per cent of national secondary enrolment, before it was discontinued in 1997.
It is rather unfortunate that the Approach Paper has reposed its faith exclusively on the exit option, even though the current social scientific research reveals the complexity and variety of options.
Indian Express 2006
Nothing is too snobbish for Dharavi any longer.
Not glossy catalogues of Valentino and Fendi in leather “boutiques”. Not even precise ripoffs of their designs, too expensive for local retail stores, that Dharavi’s sweatshops manufacture for offshore markets in Dubai and South Africa. For, what’s Made in Dharavi could be designed in Italy or France.
Asia’s largest slum—a tag that refuses to go away although the shanty-sprawl is now pockmarked with numerous clusters of tightly packed-in apartment complexes and even a pair of under-construction 16-storey “towers”—is more upwardly mobile than ever before. The state government will, very soon, request Expressions of Interest from global big daddies of construction to participate in the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP), an ambitious Rs 10,000-crore plan and part of Mumbai’s belated makeover scheme.
If—and that is a very big if—the DRP works according to design, Dharavi will be a brand ambassador of urban renewal in seven years: More than 500 acres of shanties and unremarkable buildings transformed into five organised, self-sustained sectors. Each sector will be the size of two Nariman Points, with plush housing, malls, multiplexes, pottery institutes, leather designing centres, a proposed cricket museum and stadium, gardens, parks and world class public transport.
“Not only will slumdwellers be rehabilitated in the same sector their homes are in, but they won’t even have to go to a neighbouring sector for a morning jog,’’ says Iqbal Singh Chahal, officer on special duty for DRP. From obtaining clearances from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for bid-winning developers to lay civic amenities, including sewers and water pipelines, in the Dharavi Notified Area to planning a Special Economic Zone on 16 per cent of the Dharavi triangular landmass, the lavish plans pull out all stops.
Of people, for them too?
“BUT residents have questions,” says Raju Korde, a Dharavi resident and leader of the Dharavi Bachao Samiti, formed two years ago. “And the officials have no answers.” World-class schools are a great idea, he says, but will students who’ve been in civic schools until now, many in Kannada, Urdu and Tamil-medium, get admission? The Samiti is demanding 80 per cent reservation for Dharavi’s children in the proposed schools.
Also very worried are Kumbharwada’s potters, who had a barrage of uneasy questions for project management consultant Mukesh Mehta when he visited last week. Large drying yards, kilns, warehousing for their goods are all crucial, and nobody’s quite impressed with the idea of a community kiln.
Mehta—he conceived the ambitious project more than five years ago—says the detailed land use plan accommodates everyone who’s eligible. (That’s a contested, startlingly low figure of 52,000 families; residents say the cutoff date of January 1995 is unfair.) “We have been transparent about our plans from the start,” he says, after making a presentation to BMC leaders, including the mayor, on Thursday. The BMC owns 69 per cent of land in the notified area and Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has asked the Slum Rehabilitation Authority to seek the civic body’s nod for suggested alterations to the Development Control Regulations, including a plan for a first world-style, colour-coded underground utilities duct, a first for India.
“We have decided on a land use plan,” explains Mehta. “So for each sector, we know where a park, school, hospital will be located. Also, detailed specifications for buildings will be given to the developers.” That will include art deco buildings and mandatory eco-housing criteria—including rainwater harvesting, water recycling, renewable energy systems etc—being worked upon simultaneously by the BMC and USAID. “It will be world class.”
From polyclinics to rehabilitation buildings, the standards will not be lowered for any construction. In fact, amenities like lifts and exterior paint will have to be guaranteed by the developer for 15 years. Residents of each building will form a cooperative society to supervise maintenance.
Tolls and Taxes
ALREADY, Dharavi has completed chapter one of the transformation story: Chivda and chakli manufacturing, done entirely through smallscale household units, have spawned food barons. Computer institutes, jewellery shops, coaching classes and beauty salons dot every lane.
“There’s nothing that’s not made in Dharavi,” says Sandeep Bagade, who owns Shivom Leather, one in a row of over 100 boutiques retailing leather goods. In 1986, a survey by the National Slum Dwellers Federation recorded 244 small manufacturers and 43 big industries. There were 152 units making chikki, papad and other food items, 111 restaurants, 722 scrap and recycling units, 25 bakeries and 85 export-oriented units. Over 20 years, the numbers could only have multiplied and diversified.
In Sahadev Bagade’s leather sweatshop, designs from Chloe and Fendi are exactingly duplicated. At a fraction of the designer price, they’re still too dear for the average Dharavi shopper. “For export only,” says Bagade, “to Dubai.” Orders for the calf leather and buck leather pieces—”almost as good as the original companies’ quality”—also come from Goa, especially now that the tourist season is around the corner.
Every second leather manufacturer in the shanty town now has an export licence, ensures his leather is certified according to stringent requirements abroad, and there’s a much sharper need to keep designs moving with the trends. Almost all of them pay Rs 6 lakh to Rs 7 lakh in taxes annually.
The political equations have changed too. In the Dharavi Rahivashi Sangh’s office on 90-Feet Road, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai and Dr Ambedkar feature in a row of framed photos, alongside Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. In 1978, Dharvi even had a Communist MLA, Comrade Satyendra More, but the balance of power tilted long ago. Today, all six corporators belong to the Congress, as do the local MLA and the local MP.
THE Dharavi Bachao Samiti is negotiating pragmatically. “We want change too,” says Korde, “but in a positive way.” From the earlier blanket decision to give all eligible families 225 sq foot tenements, the stiff opposition has effected a climbdown by the authorities. Now, slumdwellers can pay a percentage of the construction cost for extra area. “At an investment of about Rs 5 lakh,” says Korde, “a family can have a carpet area of about 700 sq foot in addition to the 225 sq foot.”
In view of real estate prices in Dharavi—Rs 3,500 per sq ft for buildings that do not even face the main road, a figure certain to skyrocket once the DRP kicks off—this makes good business sense.
Yet, there are other words of caution and admonition. The state government-appointed fact-finding committee investigating the 26/7 deluge says the project proposes “too-intense” density of population: ‘’In no city in the world are densities of occupation as high...” reads the Madhavrao Chitale committee report, accepted in principle by the Deshmukh government.
Dharavi houses 700 people per hectare. Once flats for the open market are occupied and footfalls multiply at the malls, cricket museum and SEZ, that number will escalate rapidly. Litigations from private landowners, environmentalists’ concern over the FSI of 4 (the highest permissible in Mumbai) have only just begun to be expressed.
The SRA claims that all these concerns are being addressed carefully. Environmental impact assessment studies, one for each of the five sectors, will kick off soon.
All the transferable development rights (TDR, certificates that allow a holder to develop elsewhere to the north of a given plot) generated will be used within Dharavi itself, promises Mehta, detailed calculations have been done. “That’s why we urged the government to okay the FSI of 4,” he says. “We don’t want to spoil Andheri or Bandra with congestion due to TDR from Dharavi.”
If Dharavi’s redevelopment looks at rehabilitating approximately 52,000 slum-dwelling families over seven years, there’s one proximate example for some comparisons and tough lessons. Some 53,000 families are being shifted by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) under three mega-projects: The Mumbai Urban Transport Project, the Mumbai Urban Infrastructure Project and the Mithi River Development and Protection Plan. Already, 33,000 families have shifted, albeit many unwillingly, from shanties to rehabilitation “townships”.
Metropolitan Commissioner T Chandrashekhar says the challenges will be many: Interference from politicians who don’t want to lose their votebanks, resistance from shopkeepers who occupy prime locations and won’t move into buildings and the legal battles. At last count, the MMRDA was fighting nearly 200 separate cases filed after the launch of the three firstname.lastname@example.org
Exploitation of child labourers in India
By T. Kala8 June 2006
The desperate conditions affecting the rural as well as the urban poor in India are forcing growing numbers of children to toil often in subhuman conditions. They are deprived of their most basic rights as children, including education and a joyful childhood. Most have never been to school or dropped out at very young ages.
Estimates of the number of child labourers vary widely. According to a 1991 census, 11.2 million children aged between 5 and 14 were working in India. But other estimates put the figure far higher. In a supreme court case last December, Ashok Aggarwal, an advocate for a group of non-government organisations, submitted that 100 million children were out of school and working—half of India’s 200 million children.
India has the largest number of child workers in the world. They are employed in many industries and trades, including garments, footwear, brick kilns, stainless steel, hotels, and textile shops. Many work in export-oriented hazardous industries like carpet weaving, gem polishing, glass blowing, match works, brassware, electro-plating, lead mining, stone quarrying, lock making and beedi rolling.
The south Indian state of Tamil Nadu has a large concentration of child labourers. An estimated 100,000 children—three quarters of them girls—are employed in the match factories, tobacco mills, tea houses and rock quarries located on the drought-prone plains of interior Tamil Nadu .
Small hotels account for much of the child labour in Chennai (Madras), Tamil Nadu’s capital, according to a survey by Peace Trust, a non-government organisation. “As much as 43.28 percent of Chennai city’s total child workforce work in small hotels and are badly exploited, while medium hotels employ 29.10 percent, and nearly 27.62 percent are employed by large units.” It adds: “Nearly 52 percent of child labourers in the city are between 12 and 14 years of age and these children have been subjected to poor working conditions, long hours of work, low payment and sexual abuse”.
A study by the Pasumai Trust, Tiruvallur, and the Peoples Forum for Human Rights in Chennai in 2005 found that children working in brick kilns in Tamil Nadu suffered prolonged exposure to sand, dust and heat, leading to skin and stomach problems. They also experienced wheezing, asthma and stunted development, as well as menstrual dysfunction among adolescent girls. Accidents were also common, leading to face fractures and other major injuries.
A Madras School of Social Work study found that among children employed as mechanics, factory and construction workers and weavers, 31 percent worked 10 to 11 hours daily and 22 percent worked 12 to 13 hours. In the unorganised sectors, children were paid piece rates, resulting in even longer hours for very low pay.
WSWS correspondents spoke to some child labourers in Chennai about their working and living conditions. Ramesh, 14, lives with his mother and younger sister in Ayanavaram, a Chennai suburb. His mother works in an embroidery company and earns 100 rupees ($US2) per day. “Her work starts at 10 am and she returns home at 9 pm. There is no work for her many days. I studied up to 6th standard, but I found it difficult to continue my studies. When I was 11 years I took this job in order to learn mechanical work. My work starts at 9 am and finishes at 7 pm. I get paid 50 rupees ($1) per week”.
Parvathi, 12, lost her parents at a young age. Her elder sister Selvi is 16. “Our mother’s elder sister sent us to a Christian mission hostel. There we ate only low quality rice and rasam every day. Apart from study time, we used to do washing and cleaning. Since we didn’t want to stay in the hostel any longer, our auntie took us home. She persuaded my sister to get a job in a leather company and I found a job in an export company. I get paid 800 rupees ($16) per month.”
For her work in the leather factory, Selvi gets 900 rupees ($18) a month. “Since I started this job I have been suffering from breathlessness. I often fall sick and have to go to a government hospital for treatment. I have become slim as a result,” she said.
Geetha, 14, lives with her parents and a younger brother. “I studied up to 3rd standard only as I couldn’t continue my studies due to poverty. My father is a load lifter but doesn’t get regular work. My mother works at five places as a domestic maid. Generally she cooks only dinner at home, and at other times we eat food that she brings from her workplaces.
“She has been doing domestic work since she was young. As a result, she falls sick frequently. She suffers from headaches and sores in her hands and feet. Unable to afford proper treatment, she just buys medicine at the medical shop for 5 rupees (US10 cents). Although we are both working, we are struggling to pay the rent and other family expenses.
“Because of our poverty, my parents wanted me to become an apprentice at an embroidery company when I was 10. Then I was paid 15 rupees (US 30 cents) per day. My normal working day is 11 hours, from 8 am to 7 pm. Now after four years I get 50 rupees ($1) per day. When I do overtime from 7 pm to 10 pm, I get an extra wage of 20 rupees (40 cents).”
Governments turn blind eye to sweatshops
In India’s commercial capital, Mumbai (Bombay), there are thousands of small units known as “zari factories”. Boys aged 6-14 work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, kneeling at low tables sewing beads and coloured threads on to vast lengths of fabric. A “zari factory” is a 3 m x 3 m room with dirty floors and hardly any ventilation. The boys have to work, wash, eat and sleep in the same room, with a small smelly bathroom in one corner. They are given only two meals a day.
Following the deaths last year of 12-year-old Afzai Ansari and 11-year-old Ahmed Khan, child workers in “zari factories”, the Maharastra state government was forced to carry out some raids, which “rescued” over 16,000 children and sent them back to their villages. However, many of the “saved” children have returned to the sweatshops. “This is nothing but recycling of child labour,” Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer and civil rights activist, said.
According to the Maharastra labour department, most of the boys are migrants from very poor districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in northern India. There are no schools in their villages or even close by. Their parents have no land for cultivation and work for pittances like 10-20 rupees (20-40 cents) a day—that is, if they can find work. Parents send their children to work in Mumbai mistakenly believing that they would escape misery.
Regardless of various legislation and court orders to “abolish” child labour, it has continued for more than a half century. Civil rights organisations insist that child labour violates the fundamental rights of children under the Indian constitution. Yet, Indian governments have consistently refused to ratify an International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention that seeks to outlaw the worst forms of child labour.
The ILO convention defines a child as one below 18 years of age and stipulates that the minimum age for employment shall not be less than the age for completion of compulsory schooling. Indian legal provisions define the maximum age for compulsory education, and also the minimum age for employment, as 14.
Indian laws, such as the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, do not prohibit child labour but ban it only in certain sectors such as hazardous industries. But even if tougher laws were introduced, they would not substantially reduce the use of child workers because the root causes lie deeper, in the terrible poverty of their families.
In 2003, the previous Tamil Nadu government of chief minister Jayalalitha Jayaram pledged to end child labour in hazardous industries by 2005 and abolish it altogether by 2007. The central United Peoples Alliance government’s Common Minimum Programme also promised to put an end to the practice. Instead, the barbaric exploitation of children is intensifying.
During the recent Tamil Nadu election campaign, various political parties promised assorted welfare measures to deceive the people. Not accidentally, none of them even addressed child labour. The first step in ensuring tens of millions of children are able to continue their education is ensure a decent income to their parents—something that the capitalist class is organically incapable of doing.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
India's Tech Success: Powered By Sweatshops And Slave Labor
I am departing from my usual topics for this post but I think this topic is more important than any of the political games being played in New Delhi right now. Yes, it is about how some unscrupulous IT companies are exploiting India's IT professionals.I have heard over the last few weeks several stories of how companies are forcing rookie programmers to work under the threat of legal action. Many of my readers may not be unfamiliar with the problem, but what has astounded me is the depth and scope of it.It goes like this: a young chap just off college is recruited by an IT company. He is mostly from a small town or a village and not very familiar with the tactics being employed in the job market. Nor are his parents much aware of it - they are just too happy their son/daughter landed a job even before getting his/her degree.Okay, now the guy finds himself in an office where he is not learning anything of value - he is being used as a simple coder (no major addition to his skills). Soon he get disenchanted and is looking for a way out. And given the scarcity of good workers in the Indian IT market, he sure enough gets an offer from another company. He wants to leave.Now starts the game. His employer says he can't. They talk about a bond he has signed when he joined. They threaten legal action. They demand money for training expenses (!!!) incurred. They call up his parents and threaten them of legal action and criminal cases against their son. (Mostly such companies leave off the girls, fearing it could lead to harassment complaints being filed against them). They bring all sorts of pressure to bear - it is mental torture. And if the guy still insists on leaving they deny him any certificate to show his experience, and may even go to the extent of serving legal notices on him.An advocate friend tells me 90 per cent of the time such companies win. The guy stays back - he resents it but he has no choice. If the bosses were sane guys they would have realized that having such people in the workforce is counterproductive. But then, they are sadists - they just want to ruin his life, just don't want him to make it in life!Why do they do it? No easy explanation. It probably is just a mixture of some of these: bruised egos of the bosses, the difficulty in finding talent, resentment at your junior getting a higher paid and better job...It sounds terrible and so improbable. But it does happen.Why? Mostly because the young guys who face this problem aren't aware of their legal rights in this country. And because their parents are cowed down by the threats of legal action the company bosses make.I recently helped a few such guys to get out of such a company. And I know those guys still have friends there who don't want to continue but are afraid to jump.I am not saying all IT companies are like this, but there are many out there. A quick scan through some of the discussion boards will tell you what I mean.We are talking of becoming an IT power. If we cannot guarantee basic rights to our IT talent how are we going to do that? Makes me wonder. And before you get me wrong, let me tell you this is not about cutting costs. These companies have the money but just treat their employees like shit. Maybe it is about mindsets not changing with the times.We aren't talking about illiterate workers in some rural brick kiln being made to do bonded labor, but about our cutting edge workforce - our IT professionals - being treated like slaves. Are we out to build an IT superpower or an IT slave empire?
clothing intended for the Christmas market had been improperly subcontracted to a sweatshop using child labour - and the high street giant may well be speaking the truth. But there is a connection between the 25,000 landless marchers and the sweatshops using child labour. For these are almost always the children of landless labourers, usually from the lower castes and from rural and semi-urban regions.
From even before the independence of India 60 years ago, scholars and serious politicians have been talking about the link between backwardness, low caste status and proprietorship of land. The situation has changed since independence, but only slightly, and in some areas only on paper.
This march was a bid to force the government to appoint a 'national land commission' that would look into land issues, including the 'capture' of land by powerful (usually but not always upper) castes. It would also examine the way courts deal with land disputes. It is an ambitious programme, one that has often been promised by
politicians and seldom delivered.
The trouble is that it looks like proving even more difficult to implement such changes in these times of neo-liberalist euphoria, when the Indian government - like any other Asian or African government - is constantly under international pressure to keep 'shining'. The brisk businessmen and bureaucrats of Delhi were hardly jumping with joy when the unwashed 25,000 reached Delhi. The professional politicians, behind the rhetoric, were uneasy.
In the West, we can salve our consciences by reading newspaper exposes about sweatshops in India and looking at images of the thousands of hungry marchers. But would our politicians and banks really allow the Indian Parliament to accommodate the demands of those marching landless labourers? On a day when an Indian tycoon, Mukesh Ambani, becomes - on paper at least - the richest man in the world, can we envisage a world in which the needs of the deprived are given preference over the dictates of 'shining' economies?