|Workers at the Seagate Wuxi China Factory|
The next time you purchase a pair of shoes made in another country, imagine finding a hand-written note in the box – a note written by the person who made your shoes, describing the abusive working conditions that resulted in the creation of your purchase. As CNN recently reported, that is exactly what happened to a lady in Oregon in 2011 after purchasing a Halloween decoration from a Kmart store.
Our world is becoming increasingly smaller through global supply chains. In addition, we rely even more on goods that are produced in other parts of the world. Ensuring that labor practices are fair and basic human rights are recognized becomes increasingly harder for companies to regulate. If the host country is not active in protecting workers from abuse, who does that responsibility fall on? The producers, the suppliers, the customers?
Is There Anybody Out There?
There are currently no formal international regulations that address labor rights nor is there an international governing body to ensure suppliers are utilizing fair labor standards. The International Labour Organization is a branch of the United Nations that creates labor standards. However, these are merely guidelines and recommendations to be used by countries that ratify them.
What Can Be Done?
Multi-national companies can take a big role in helping to protect labor rights. Big name companies can write into their contracts with suppliers fair labor rules that must be abided by. The threat of the company terminating the contract may be enough for suppliers to adhere to the labor rules.
We, as consumers, can also ensure that the products we purchase are made in favorable conditions. Become a conscious consumer by knowing where your goods come from and only purchase from reputable companies that source goods from suppliers that adhere to fair labor practices. You can utilize non-profits, like the Fair Labor Association, to seek companies that follow fair labor standards. Additionally, some packaging might advertise fair labor standards. The enjoyment of new pair of shoes, a new gadget or food should not come at the expense of the person’s dignity who produced it.