News round-up (Jun/Jul)

July 01, 2005

Nike and other companies have joined forces with six leading anti-sweatshop groups to devise a single set of labour standards with a common factory inspection system. In addition, seven out of nine Chinese toy suppliers investigated in a recent report systematically cheat during social audits.

The government must lead by example in using its purchasing power to further sustainable development, Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Margaret Beckett said at the first meeting of the Sustainable Procurement Taskforce, set up under the government’s Sustainable Development Strategy. Financial Secretary John Healey is encouraging all sectors to plug into the government’s work and seize the market opportunities that will emerge as a result of the government’s work. Contact Defra 08459 335 577 (

Single-minded approach

Nike, Patagonia, Gap and five other companies have joined forces with six leading anti-sweatshop groups to devise a single set of labour standards with a common factory inspection system. The companies signed an agreement late April to run a 30-month pilot project in dozens of Turkish factories that produce garments and other products for the eight companies. Social Accountability International says that one of the goals of the project is “to bring in those companies still standing on the sidelines [that] have said there’s too much disagreement on the right system”. The experiment will shed light on the challenges in reconciling multinationals’ desire for decent factories and their constant search for the cheapest suppliers. Contact Jill Zanger, Nike 00 1 503 532 0316 (

Fairer factories

The Fair Labor Association has accredited the compliance programmes of clothing companies adidas-Saloman, Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Nike, Phillips-Van Heusen and Reebok. Accreditation is made following satisfactory completion of a three-year initial implementation period of programmes to improved conditions for contracted factory workers. Companies must also comply substantially with FLA requirements to implement a rigorous workplace code of conduct in factories making the companies products. Programmes are re-assessed every two years. Criteria companies are evaluated on include the extent to which they have:

– mediated non-compliance issues in a timely manner

– submitted to unannounced, independent external monitoring visits to factories throughout their supply chains

– provided workers with confidential reporting channels to report on non-compliance issues to the company

Contact Fair Labor Association 00 1 202 898 1000 (

Toy trouble

Seven out of nine Chinese toy suppliers investigated in a recent report systematically cheat during social audits, while eight out of nine are in breach of both national and international conventions on workers rights, according to Easy to Manage – a report on the Chinese Toy Workers and the Responsibility of the Corporations by the Fair Trade Centre and SwedWatch. Based on over 100 interviews with toy factory workers at nine factories in China during 2004, the survey revealed that employees at five of the factories worked up to fourteen hours a day, while in six factories workers did not even have one day off a week during peak production seasons. The results suggest that a global initiative by the International Council of Toy Industries to improve labour conditions is not addressing the underlying causes. The report said it focuses on top-down monitoring without involving workers or tackling aggressive purchasing practices.

Meanwhile, an article published in the Financial Times (April 22) alleged that factory managers in China are becoming adept at falsifying worker time cards and payroll documents in order to convince buyers that they comply with labour law and codes of conduct. According to labour standards auditors, more than half of factories inspected forge some of their records. Forged documents are allegedly used to cover up underpayment, excessive working hours and inadequate health and safety provision. Contact Henrik Lindholm, Fair Trade Centre 00 46 8 643 4364 (


A group of Florida farm workers whose boycott against Yum! Brands’ Taco Bell led the chain to pay more for Florida tomatoes is asking McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King to follow its lead. Taco Bell has agreed to help the farm workers persuade the other fast food chains and eventually supermarket retailers to increase pay and monitor suppliers to make sure the labour rights of farm workers are not violated. “This is an industry approach to get all the growers on board, and also get all the quick-food restaurants and retail supermarkets to join with us in that effort,” Taco Bell said. Contact Yum! (; CIW 00 1 239 657 8311 (

Labour pains

At least 12.3m people are trapped in forced labour around the world, according to a new ILO report published on May 11. A global alliance against forced labour finds that forced labour is a major global problem and is present in all regions and all types of economies. In less-developed regions such as southern Asia, Africa and Latin America traditional forms of forced labour and debt-bondage are adapting to new conditions, such as urbanisation and the growth of informal sectors. Worldwide, the report finds that one-fifth of forced labour is the result of human trafficking. Many of those forced into labour work in remote geographical areas where labour inspection is difficult. Estimated numbers of forced labourers by region are:

– Asia: 9.5m

– Latin America/Caribbean 1.3m

– Sub-Saharan Africa: 660,000

– Middle East & North Africa: 260,000

– Industrialised countries: 360,000

– Transition countries: 210,000

The report calls for intensified efforts to deal with bonded labour in south Asia; argues that addressing forced labour in Africa requires collaboration with traditional leaders; and calls on companies to implement time-bound projects to eradicate forced labour in their supply chain. Contact ILO 00 41 22 799 6111 (

Oiling the chain

John Lewis Partnership supermarket chain Waitrose announced plans to plough a fifth of all profits from the South African citrus fruit sold in its supermarkets back into farms where the food is grown. The move, supported by the South African government, is not only aimed at enriching the lives of South African farm workers and their dependents but also at ensuring stability in the supply chain. Waitrose expects to raise up to £25,000 between now and September to establish school classrooms, health clinics and other projects to benefit the labourers and the local communities. Contact Kate Cooper, Waitrose 01344 824 172 (

Exacting extracts

Unilever subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s said it will flavour its coffee ice creams with extracts made from fair trade products. By switching to fair trade coffee extracts, it hopes to help increase incomes for coffee producers, as well as raising awareness among consumers by displaying the fair trade logo on its products. Contact Lee Holden, Ben & Jerry’s 00 1 802 846 1500 (

Equitrade vs fairtrade

While fairtrade products concentrate on helping only growers of products such as coffee and cocoa beans, a new chocolate company is developing another model with broader benefits for the poor. Equitrade tries to improve the quality of life of the majority of people in poor countries by increasing the amount of money in the economy, according to Neil Kelsall, marketing director of Malagasy, a small company that has started making chocolate in Madagascar. Fairtrade, on the other hand, concentrates on helping a small group of marginalised people – the growers, Kelsall was quoted as saying in The Guardian (May 25). Kelsall said he is not attacking fairtrade, which he fully supports, but argues that it will never eradicate world poverty. Contact Neil Kelsall 0845 166 2854 (

Editorial Comment

Companies are waking up to the idea that joint initiatives are a good way of promoting responsibility at the lowest possible cost. Industry-wide initiatives make sense: they mean the cost burden of auditing suppliers is shared and if compliance means costs do rise, all partners can operate on a level playing. Hence Taco Bell’s eagerness to get its competitors onto a higher cost base too. After all, social responsibility at any cost would be unsustainable.

This is where we think the government’s sustainability drive appears a little ambiguous. The notion of ‘best value’ in public procurement was introduced in the halcyon days of New Labour as a way of modernising the cumbersome public sector. Now, with the introduction of the government’s Sustainable Development Strategy, sustainability will play a big part in decision-making, meaning factors such as fuel efficiency and benefits to the community will be considered. Since the government is by far the biggest buyer of goods and services in the economy (40% of GDP is spent by the public sector), this strategy should prove an effective way of encouraging sustainability.

But with ‘best value’ not necessarily meaning ‘lowest cost’, there is a danger that government plans might well run foul of EU rules.

The EU Procurement Directives require “full, fair and transparent” competition throughout the member states where public funds are to be used for the purchase of goods and services. This means local and national governments must advertise projects across all member states and ensure that all tenders received are considered under fair and objective criteria. All this begs the question, how will procurement officers respond to the burden of reconciling sustainable procurement with “full, fair and transparent” competition? In the end, of course, without a common EU-wide approach, this may all lead to accusations of UK protectionism.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 82 – July, 2005