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The ROI on CSR

Concerns about workers’ safety in the garment industry have spurred collective protest against several deadly factory fires and the recent building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Subsequent responses from the Bangladeshi government, the international community and retailers highlight the difficulty in seeking accountability for tragedies which ensue from a failure to develop, implement and enforce measures that ensure employee protection.

Faced with warnings of “financial repercussions from consumers, damage to their stock value or sustained public protests if they do not adopt stricter garment manufacturing standards,” some global clothing retailers, such as the United Colors of Benetton, initially denied any role in factory production of their products. Walt Disney left Bangladesh completely after the November fire, discontinuing production of branded merchandise. Other companies directly affected by the most recent building collapse focused instead on compensation and long-term financial aid for victims. The marred reputation of garment production in Bangladesh has complicated corporate public relations even for companies, like H&M, not directly involved in the Rana Plaza collapse, but part of the industry. In response to concerns about the potential economic vacuum resulting from this swift corporate exodus, the Bangladeshi government closed several garment factories for inspection, opened the door for garment worker trade unions and is considering plans to increase the minimum wage in this industry. (more…)

A critique of the Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains (Eradication of Slavery) Bill

In June 2012, the Labour MP Michael Connarty submitted a Private Members Bill which sought to:

Require large companies in the UK to make annual statements of measures taken by them to eradicate slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and the worst forms of child labour (as set out in Article 3 of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 182) from their supply chains; to require such companies to provide customers and investors with information about measures taken by them to eliminate slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and the worst forms of child labour; to provide victims of slavery with necessary protections and rights; and for connected purposes.

Currently this proposed legislation is in its second reading (the first opportunity for Members of Parliament to debate the main principles of the Bill) in the House of Commons.  The Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains (Eradication of Slavery) Bill echoes the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, recognising a more holistic interpretation of ‘modern day slavery’ in a globalised world, beyond the oft-repeated focus on sex trafficking.  Though brief, this Bill has the potential to improve the UK’s response to trafficking by requiring that companies publicly declare their efforts to eradicate slavery; where companies find such issues, they ‘shall take action necessary and appropriate to assist people who have been victims and shall report on that action in their annual reports.’  So far, so good. (more…)

Human trafficking discourse: the value of economics

Categorizing the movement of trafficked (and exploited) persons through the language of economics has become a fashionable way to digest the complex nature of human trafficking. The prelude to almost any introduction to human trafficking generally goes like this: trafficked people come from sending or source countries, occasionally make their way through transit countries and end up in destination countries, although a specific country can be assigned more than one designation. “Supply” and “demand” are terms generally reserved for trafficked persons; so a “source” country “supplies” trafficked people, a “destination” country is where there is “demand” for the labor or services conducive to exploitation or trafficking.

A great deal of research has been devoted to investigating the specific routes a trafficked person might take and/or analyzing locations on the basis of being a point of supply or demand. As trafficking is an incredibly profitable business, it may seem logical to borrow language from the world of finance and economics; importantly this discourse has successfully influenced research and current policy development.

Clearly, knowing about where people come from and where they end up is crucial in addressing human trafficking, specifically in developing indicators and risk assessments for populations likely to be trafficked in a given source country and the conditions under which they may be trafficked to a given destination country. Activists have also used this language in a call to public action through educational initiatives and legislative changes designed to heighten public awareness and accountability. But, as the field of anti-trafficking develops, how appropriate is this framework? Why has it been so readily absorbed into anti-trafficking advocacy? And to what extent has it constrained policy decisions? Arguably, trafficking rhetoric has stalled in an oversimplified, unimaginative economic discourse; the continued use of this reductionist language potentially ignores the ongoing, flexible nature of trafficking not only as a business, but as a research framework affecting subsequent policy interventions. (more…)