Brands and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Many large companies have a Corporate Social Responsibility department, or a Code of Conduct and may even be part of a multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI) like the Ethical Trading Initiative. The problem is that most companies still exist primarily to make money for their shareholders. And while the Compliance Dept asks suppliers for better wages and an end to forced overtime, the Buying Dept asks for more garments, quicker and cheaper than the last time.

Over the last 25 years, large brands that have been exposed for sweatshop conditions have gone out of their way to try and improve their work practices. Clean factory audits are boasted by everyone from Nike to Gildan, but these documents are fraught with misleading results.

Some brands have initiated training schemes in the factories in which they operate to create a culture of meeting deadlines using better methods and safer equipment rather than longer shifts. But these efforts on the part of a few big brands are not universal, and the results ineffective in some cases.

Most brands still don’t state clearly where a garment was made and under what conditions. They don’t make anything themselves. In fact many companies don’t even co-ordinate production themselves! Instead, contracting all production to conglomerates that act as mega-suppliers, who sub-contract production to thousands of smaller companies, making it ever harder to monitor the industry and pull them up on their labour practices.

The results of sweatshop exploitation, and the companies focus on profits over people is that companies large and small, are ever further removed from the productions lines of the products they sell. Meanwhile, workers find themselves forced to work in detrimental conditions that can lead mental health breakdown and suicide, as in the case of Apple and the Foxconn factory suicides, or in such hazardous conditions that they risk losing their lives in the workplace every day, as happened when the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, where workers made clothes for dozens of western brands, collapsed, killing 1,134 people.