Fair Labor Association Releases Public Reports on Rights Conditions in Overseas Factories
View the FLA Tracking Charts
On June 4, 2003, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) took a significant step forward in protecting workers’ rights and improving the conditions in factories around the world where clothing and shoes are manufactured.
The step is a public one: the FLA released, on the internet, the results of independent and systematic audits of some 50 factories – factories that produce goods made for adidas, Nike, Reebok, Liz Claiborne, Eddie Bauer and other major brands. The FLA also released its first public annual report, which summarizes efforts to ensure the protection of workers’ rights.
The audits – which are reported in the form of “tracking charts” – provide a detailed account of workers’ rights conditions in these factories – and a narrative about what companies are doing to remedy the violations. This type of thorough and systematic disclosure is unusual in the field of workers’ rights. It is an important first step in improving the ability of workers, advocates and the public to hold global corporations to their legal and moral obligation to protect the rights of workers.
The Fair Labor Association is a three-year-old organizations made up of apparel and athletic footwear companies; human rights, labor rights and consumer organizations; and university representatives. The FLA evolved out of the Apparel Industry Partnership which was initiated by President Clinton in 1996; its mission is to address workers’ rights issues in the U.S. and abroad.
Companies that participate in the FLA have agreed to:
- Adopt and adhere to an industry-wide code of conduct.
- Undertake an extensive program of internal monitoring of all factories in their global supply chain and
- Allow independent external monitoring of a representative sample of those factories by monitors who have been selected by and work for the FLA.
- Undertake remedial actions when violations of the code of conduct are found.
Last year, as a member of the FLA’s Board of Directors, Human Rights First led an effort for greater public disclosure of the results of FLA monitoring. The release today of the factory tracking charts and the first annual public report is the first phase of the FLA’s commitment to ongoing public disclosure.
Human Rights First is guided in its work with the FLA by our overall goal: to see substantive and systematic improvements for worker rights protection. We have been a leader in helping the FLA get to this point.
Going forward, the FLA will post tracking charts on its website summarizing the finding of all new factory visits by the FLA’s independent external monitors. These charts (like the ones currently posted) will include a detailed summary of what the FLA’s monitors have found as well as information on actions taken by participating companies to remedy violations of the code of conduct that the monitors identified. Human Rights First has been actively engaged with the FLA for three reasons:
- The FLA is an innovative collaborative approach among NGOs, businesses and the university community to address workers’ rights problems in the global supply chain — and a model which other industries can follow. We believe a collaboration of this kind – with its inherent healthy tensions — is essential for real and practical change.
- The FLA is helping to develop: meaningful measures for assessing company compliance with codes of conduct; improved approaches to monitoring factory conditions; and a system that encourages companies to remedy problems once they have been identified.
- The FLA process includes a commitment to public disclosure. Greater public transparency is essential to provide advocates, consumers, investors and the media with the type of information they need. As they evolve, FLA reports will give consumers the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions, and socially responsible investors reliable reports that will help inform their investment choices.
As the FLA takes this step today – by compiling these reports and making them available through the internet – there is still much work to be done. Within the FLA, Human Rights First will continue to push to:
- Improve the scope and quality of monitoring so that problems are more accurately and comprehensively identified
- Involve local stakeholders – workers, advocates, independent trade unions and democratic workers’ organizations, NGOs — more centrally in the monitoring and remediation processes
- Standardize the reporting so consumers and the interested public are able to compare and contrast the efforts of particular companies
Human Rights First also is continuing to work in the broader workers rights arena, mindful that the FLA is only one approach. We are well aware that there continue to be very serious widespread human rights violations involving millions of workers around the world. We need to press governments to take much greater responsibility for addressing these abuses, by passing stronger laws protecting workers, and committing greater resources and political energy to enforcing them. In many countries, for example, the rights of workers to organize and form independent unions are prohibited by law, as in China, or severely compromised by lack of government enforcement of laws protecting freedom of association. At the international level as well, there is a need for a much greater effort to protect the rights of workers. Though the International Labor Organization (ILO) has developed a series of useful international conventions and other standards, we and others need to press the ILO to play a much more active role in enforcing compliance with these standards at a local level.
We invite your reactions and feedback to the attached reports, as well as suggestions as to how they can be strengthened in the future.
We also invite you
to join our Workers Rights listserv
for regular updates on the FLA and Human Rights First’s Workers Rights program.
Fair Labor Association – a Global Monitoring Model
The Fair Labor Association
(FLA) is a non-profit organization established to protect the rights of workers in the United States and abroad. Its mission is to combine the efforts of a diverse group of participants – companies, NGOs, unions, independent monitors, and universities and their licensees – to work together to improve working conditions in factories and promote respect for international labor standards in global production chains. The FLA has established a code of conduct and monitoring system that will hold companies publicly accountable for their labor practices, as well as those of their principal contractors and suppliers around the world. By participating in the FLA, companies commit to implement the FLA code of conduct, to undertake a yearly process of internal and external monitoring, to remedy labor problems in the factories, and to submit a public report on their performance. Human Rights First has played a pivotal role in the formation of the FLA and is one of the founding NGO members of the FLA Board of Directors. We believe it is essential that committed advocates for workers’ rights play a central role in guiding the development of the FLA and as a result have joined with a diverse group of NGOs to set up the FLA NGO Advisory Council. The NGO Advisory Council is a network of organizations from around the world that aims to provide the FLA with on-the-spot information about working conditions and works to help shape and evaluate FLA standards. The NGO Advisory Council is also helping to build capacity among NGOs worldwide to play a role in independent monitoring.