Made In–Bangladesh

IMG_2525According to news reports, millions of items of clothing were manufactured in a single building in the city of Savar, in the heart of Bangladesh. When that building collapsed on April 24, 2013, more than 350 workers died as a result of that collapse; almost all women between the ages of 18-20. More than 1000 were injured. Over three thousand workers labored in that building, purportedly working for wages of 26 cents per hour or less. Before 2010, when the minimum wage was increased in Bangladesh from $21 per month to $38 per month, their wages would have been less.

This is not an isolated tragedy. Five months earlier, on November 24, 2012, more than 100 workers were killed when a fire engulfed another garment factory in Savar. The clothing manufactured in those buildings was shipped from the factories for sale in Europe, Canada and the United States.

The highly reputable international charity, Oxfam, has stated that:
“We can make choices that will make a difference. So too can retailers. The easiest thing is to choose not to see the story behind the brands, but we can also choose to buy clothes that are the products of transparent and non-abusive supply chains. Retailers can choose to do the same, and can hold their suppliers to account–not least by ensuring they respect standard safety measures that protect their workers lives.”

This is not the first time our blog has written about the challenges of buying U.S. made products and products made in other countries by businesses that agree to comply with international treaties designed to protect workers. These treaties include the United Nations Global Compact and SA8000.

 See our post on “Made in the USA: The importance of buying local” from Jan. 12, 2012 here.

These treaties were designed to set standards for global companies involving human rights, the environment, anti-corruption and ethical labor standards. It is a challenge, however, to identify consumer products that are made by companies that have agreed to these principles: provide humane working conditions, treat their employees with dignity, provide safe working conditions and pay reasonable wages.

See our post on “Made in the USA: Clothing. What to do when this is no ‘Made in the USA’ Choice? ” from Feb.4, 2012 here.

If the two of us have clothing in our closets that are made in factories like those where workers have been killed, it is not because we turn a blind eye. It is a sad circumstance that it remains difficult to find products made in the U.S. and even more difficult to identify products made abroad according to international treaties.

Perhaps our blog can focus more of our attention to the challenges we face as consumers to support businesses where workers are treated humanely.
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The opinions expressed in this post are not the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

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What is the United Nations Global Compact and why does it matter?

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

Anyone who cares about global competition and free trade, will also care about the United Nations Global Compact. Like SA 8000, a global social accountability standard for decent working conditions, it focuses on the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.  There are many prominent U.S. businesses that have committed to the principles of the compact: Levi Strauss, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Price Waterhouse auditors and Nike are all participants.

Each business that joins the UN Global Compact is expected to embrace the 10 fundamental principles of the Compact, to the best of their ability and within their realm of influence. As listed on the organization’s website, here are the 10 principles:

Human Rights:

1)             support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and

2)             protect against human rights abuses.

Labor:

3)             uphold the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

4)             the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;

5)             the effective abolition of child labour; and

6)             the elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation.

Environment:

7)             support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;

8)             undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and

9)             encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

Anti-Corruption:

10)          work against all forms of corruption, including extortion and bribery.

The Compact is designed as a forum for businesses globally to collaborate within a practical framework to exchange best practices and facilitate the development of sustainable business methods. According to its website, www.unglobalcompact.org, the Compact has over 8700 corporate participants in 130 countries. With this kind of participation, there is certainly hope that businesses can start working together on a global level to infuse human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption ideals at a global level, and that those ideals can have an impact locally.

It should not surprise us that companies that take to heart the provisions of SA 8000 are often committed to a broader range of compacts focused on global equity, protection of the environment and protecting our natural resources.  We believe the principles of the UN Global Compact and SA 8000 are important in “shifting the balance” toward a healthier planet.