In July 2020, the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity (MSI Integrity) published a report analyzing 40 international standard-setting MSIs. The report questions whether these organizations have “delivered on their promise to protect human rights.” While the report addresses important questions about how MSIs currently function, it starts from a faulty premise, namely that MSIs are a permanent substitute for government oversight and regulation. This misrepresents the role of MSIs like the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which seek to bridge the governance gaps that exist in many industries and facilitate collective learning and action among stakeholders. Over its 20-year history the FLA has never sought to be—nor can it become—a substitute for effective government protection of human rights.
Launched in 1999, the FLA’s mission is to improve workers’ rights in the global apparel and agriculture supply chains. It provides a forum to understand and address some of the most persistent problems in global supply chains and helps companies and suppliers apply international labor rights standards in practice. The FLA’s accreditation program assesses company compliance with the organization’s standards and metrics, providing an effective and practical means of added accountability. Civil society organizations play a vital role in this process, offering critical insights, advocating for workers, pressing for engagement with companies and government, and holding the organization accountable to its mission.
We take strong exception to the charge that our work serves to excuse or enable government inaction. Since it was founded, the FLA has been and continues to be a forceful advocate for strengthening labor laws and their robust implementation. The organization works to help build an environment where civil society organizations, including independent unions, can operate effectively on behalf of workers. Our role is to complement and foster sound public policy, including regulation.
The FLA shares MSI Integrity’s call for greater human rights regulations at the local, national, and international levels to eliminate governance gaps. Alongside these efforts, MSIs like the FLA play an indispensable role helping and prodding companies to implement sound human rights standards in their global supply chains.