Representatives of major brands, the Chinese Government, and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) gathered in Beijing on January 8 to discuss a new book examining wage trends at the global level. The book, Fair Wages – Strengthening Corporate Social Responsibility, sheds light on wage inequalities and unfairness facing workers around the world. It was authored by Dr. Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead, professor of corporate social responsibility at Sciences Po in Paris, who is responsible for wage practices at the International Labour Organization (ILO).
On January 3 and 4, 2012, FLA hosted a training session in Shenzhen, China, for accredited monitoring organizations and others wishing to learn more about the Fair Wage Approach developed by Daniel Vaughn-Whitehead of the ILO. During the training, attendees debated the piece rate payment system that is widely used in Chinese factories. This system pays employees per garment produced and is often implemented because it seems transparent and easily understood by both workers and managers.
Issues: During a 2004 factory visit, FLA assessors learned that a facility producing t-shirts and performance apparel for VF Corporation was not accurately compensating all workers for overtime work. Workers were paid $0.63 per hour and, according to law, regular overtime (not on a rest day or weekend) should be paid double ($1.26 per hour). When asked, factory management said they were not aware of the law. The factory employed 1,329 people.
On October 12, 2011, the Institute for Global Labour & Human Rights released a report alleging a number of noncompliances at the Style Avenue factory in El Salvador, including harassment or abuse and forced overtime. Two collegiate licensees registered with FLA – Outerstuff and College Kids – were sourcing from the factory at the time of this report. Outerstuff and College Kids commissioned FLA-accredited monitoring organization, GMIES, to investigate the allegations.
Many countries have adopted plans designed to help their economies recover from the global financial crisis. Unfortunately, those have mostly concentrated on saving banks and companies on the one hand, and on stimulating consumption on the other. Amazingly, there has been relatively little emphasis on the labor market policies needed to save jobs and protect wages. One wonders who is meant to do all the consuming if unemployment keeps rising and wages keep falling (at least in real terms)?
A recent survey by Oxfam Hong Kong showed that more than 81 percent of Hong Kong residents would be “less inclined to patronise a company that violated the rights and interests of its employees.” The survey comes just weeks before the statutory minimum wage goes into effect May 1. According to Oxfam, some companies may cancel paid meal breaks and eliminate rest days to counter the cost of paying the minimum wage.
There are some interesting new postings on the FLA web site related to the FLA’s Syngenta project. As FLA groupies know, that project relates to the FLA’s unique application of its methodologies used in the apparel industry to agriculture. Several years ago the FLA was asked to address the problem of the use of child labor in the Indian seed supply chain. The FLA commissioned two independent studies to assess the risks and then, based on the result of these studies , developed a new approach to internal and external monitoring of labor standards.
It has become very fashionable to criticize Codes of Conduct and monitoring, and to hold them responsible for all sorts of unpleasant realities in workplace conditions – from sub-minimum wages to excessive overtime. At one level, such criticisms fail to recognize that wage and hour issues predate the wave of codes and monitoring that arose in the mid-1990s. In fact, codes were a reaction to such basic labor law violations.