This week the International Labor Rights Forum launched a new portion of its Free2work website dedicated to sporting equipment, with a focus on major soccer ball brands. This comes alongside the recently released report, “Missed the Goal for Workers: the Reality of Soccer Ball Stitchers in Pakistan, India, China and Thailand”, which documents the disparities that many soccer ball stitchers often face in their working environments. Through ILRF research, it was found that the supply chains of many well-known companies often had serious labor rights violations. The companies that were analyzed on Free2work include adidas, Nike, Mikasa, Calle Primero, Puma, Select Sports, Molten, Brine and Tachikara. All of the ratings include a letter grade and a brief synopsis describing why that particular company received that grade.
For those who do not know, Free2work is a website devoted to helping consumers identify companies who do not use forced or child labor in their production. The complexities regarding the analysis of each company is simplified by free2work so that consumers can cast their dollar votes in a conscientious manner. The website provides a rating system for companies based upon their transparency, management systems, ability to prevent forced and child labor, worker empowerment and overall sustainability of their system. The grade a company receives is compiled from public information and a survey that each brand receives when contacted by free2work. The site also rates chocolate, apparel, toy, accessory, and electronic companies. The ultimate goal is to bring social justice to those workers around the world who suffer from the oppression and to have consumers be more conscientious when purchasing everyday items.
While I was reviewing the research, I began to realize that the only companies who actually had steadfast labor corporate responsibility action plans were the big players- adidas, Nike, New Balance and Puma. Why was this?
I recognize that these companies have bigger budgets for their CSR programs, but shouldn’t all brands, big and small, be concerned with how their supply chain is affecting others? Obliviously, from the data collected, not everyone cares, or even pretends to care. For a better understanding of the psyche of each company, I think that we need to look at why they received their particular grade:
As I said before, adidas and Nike did relatively well, with an A- and B, respectively. Adidas has a fairly comprehensive code of conduct that covers gender discrimination, child labor, forced labor and the right to organize. They also had a pretty transparent supply chain and good third party monitoring. Nike has several standing monitoring programs that supervise the management of labor, environmental, safety and health issues. They also have a well-established policy of how to deal with child labor.
Puma (C+) and Brine/New Balance (C) also rated decently, with both brands monitoring many aspects, to one degree or another, of their supply chain. Puma, unfortunately, needs to put a bit more development into its remediation of child labor policy, but they do have a thorough code of conduct that encompasses ideas on the elimination of child and forced labor. Brine/New Balance is preparing to publish their corporate social responsibility manual in 2011, which will be available on their website and will address issues regarding rehabilitation of child laborers. This will definitely improve their score and is a great step for their company to be taking.
Next on the list are Molten (C-), Select Sports (D) and Mikasa (D-). Molten has a code of conduct in all contracts with its suppliers, but fails to have any internal monitoring in place. Select Sports and Mikasa provided free2work with little information about how they insure labor rights are protected within their supply chain. Both companies had no published code of conduct and lacked information available on their website.
On the bottom of the list are Tachikara and Calle Primero, both receiving F’s. Neither company had any substantially relevant information available on their websites. Tachikara did not respond to inquiries from free2work. Though Calle Primero did respond, but they stated that they could not put their focus into social responsibility until they become profitable.
Overall, all companies need to improve their transparency (meaning that their supply chain is accessible and clear), which will allow them to better show the actions they are taking to combat internal problems. They also need to support stronger neutrality agreements, a contract between the workers and employers that allows the workers to organize, and need to make sure third party grievance systems are available. One of the biggest overall issues is definitely the need for a living wage for all workers- none of the companies rated had a living wage policy in effect.
There is unquestionably room for improvement for all companies, regardless of their grade. Even for new companies, a good labor CSR practice in effect from the beginning helps establish their brand in the future. Trying to apply a CSR strategy once the business is already established can often times be difficult to actually put into practice. Though the large corporations do have clear codes of conduct and social responsibility clauses internally implemented, everyone can be doing more to help ensure workers rights
Hopefully consumers can use free2work’s rating system as a way to make ethical decisions about what they want to purchase. With the globe currently being captivated by the World Cup, it is important that they realize the moral standing of some of the major brands involved in the tournament. The more educated consumers are, the more they can fight for a change.
For more information on the ILRF’s “Foulball” campaign, please visit laborrights.org/stop-child-labor/foulball-campaign.