Home / General / Why Holding Corporations Accountable for Their Supply Chains is the Only Answer to Global Labor Exploitation, Part 45,018

Why Holding Corporations Accountable for Their Supply Chains is the Only Answer to Global Labor Exploitation, Part 45,018



Yes, another post on trade policy and global labor rights that will be sure to get me into the LGM Top 10 posts of 2017!

This essay on the relationship between migratory labor and supply chain exploitation in the apparel industry, including making links between the likelihood of climate change causing even more possibilities for exploitation because of the huge number of refugees, is basically right on. But I think it does fall short of nailing down a reasonable answer to these problems. Certainly global labor solidarity is absolutely critical and connecting the labor and climate justice movements great. But I continue to maintain that I see no end game to these problems without holding western corporations accountable for what happens in their supply chains. That happens through both trade agreements with legally enforceable labor and environmental standards. It happens through the U.S. and other nations creating import standards. And it happens through allowing workers around the world to use U.S. courts (and other national courts) for enforcement of those standards.

Sadly, there are always going to be migrant laborers. But they don’t per se have to be exploited by the apparel industry. At the very least, we can force the retailers at the top of the food chain to take accountability for their suppliers. That is the single most effective way to do something about this problem and creating the legal framework to regulate that process is more realistic than hoping for international labor solidarity and workplace organizing, which is exceptionally slow and difficult, desperately needed as it is.

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  • Frank Wilhoit

    You lost me at “holding corporations accountable”. Will not happen, cannot happen. Think of something else. If you want different outcomes, create different incentives. But do not speak of accountability, because it is gone, for all time, and will never return.

    • We should not take one election as the end of workers’ movements or a sea change that can never be recovered from. That’s especially true less than 2 months after the election. The dustbin of history is littered with predictions like this.

      • science_goy

        Not to mention the conceit that the US Federal Government is the only entity in the world that can hold corporations accountable.

    • DrDick

      It has happened before and can happen again. It will happen again if we make it so.

  • Yankee

    If T starts truncating supply chains at the border that should shake things up. Business has been pushing supply chains outboard for the whole neoliberal cycle; considering the tumbulous world situation it might make sense to management to start pulling stuff back inwards. Opportunity beckons.

    BTW “Supply chains” in this context includes services, eg Fryer Technicians report to McD corporate, right?

  • ProgressiveLiberal

    Quick question:

    Say we determined what wages had to be in each country around the world for them to be fair. Say we determined what wages are. What if we added the difference as a tariff on imports from that country? Would that be fine?

    I mean, if a country did (I know they don’t now) pay its workers fairly, but that was only 50% of what workers make here (so, basically Denmark’s wages vs. our wages), what are we to require of our companies here when it comes to their “supply chain”?

    Do you think Denmark should ban the imports of american made clothing because it is made by “low wage workers”? Should every country that pays higher wages and has sick leave, etc, ban our exports, or put a tariff on them? Should they “hold their suppliers accountable” when the suppliers are in other lower wage first world countries (pretty much every country in the world when compared to Denmark)?

    • The phrase used by European unions is “social dumping”. Yes, it includes the USA, with its pathetic social insurance and labour protections.

    • Lurking Canadian

      My preferred solution would be to refuse to trade with countries that do not have meaningful, democratic labour (i.e.:unionization) rights. If the people of [poor country] are genuinely, freely choosing to work for peanuts in hazardous conditions…well, we might regret it, but we have to respect their decision. (I would say that slave labour and child labour are just plain unacceptable, no matter how many votes they get.)

      If, on the other hand, the people of [poor country] accept their working conditions because the alternative is to be thrown out the window of a helicopter, we don’t trade with them.

    • leftwingfox

      My personal preference to this has always been labor-equalizing tariffs. If it costs $10 to make a product at minimum wages in the importing nation, and $1 to make the product in the exporting nation, you put a $9 tariff on the item.

      That way there are still regional advantages that might make operations in one nation preferable, but it reduces the profit-taking from corporations looking to move for labor reasons.

      That’s a separate issue from corporate accountability for abuses down the supply chain though.

  • Mike Furlan


    Only holding real people accountable, as in doing hard time in prison will work.

    Corporations will just price in the expected fines.

    Put some CEOs in stripes and you will get results.

    • Murc

      Why not both?

      I’ve always been a big fan of “both the notional entity that is the corporation and the people within it are simultaneously 100% liable, criminally, civilly, and financially, for any wrongdoing.”

      • DrDick

        Exactly. “Corporations” do not make decisions, the people running them do. Hold both accountable for their actions.

    • What makes you think I wouldn’t support that?

    • IIRC environmentalists have had some success in forcing corporations to include sustainability in their annual reports. Greenwashing hypocrisy? Much of it, sure, especially to begin with. But now you have big corporations like Google sourcing their electricity renewably through PPAs, which is real not greenwashing. A Canadian commie called Mark Carney who runs the Bank of England has been getting traction on a plan to make companies consider the risks to their business of climate change and the energy transition.

      The long march through the institutions sometimes works. Finding allies like Carney can work too. His chief economist Andy Haldane supports some version of stakeholder capitalism, and is worth reading.

  • DrDick

    Agree completely about this. The exploitation of refugees is something I already deal with in my race and ethnicity class and has been going on for a long time.

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