From the Blog
The challenge of globalization is to produce affordable consumer goods in factories where workers are safe and treated with dignity.
Manufacturing is essential to other high value-added sectors and is a major source of employment around the world. Global supply chains link thousands of firms across cultural, political, and economic boundaries. In different industries – apparel, electronics, footwear, food, and toys, among others – the expansion of global supply chains has provided developing countries with much-needed investment, employment, technology, and access to international markets. At the same time, the social and environmental consequences of global supply chains have provoked significant controversies over the role of multinational brands and their local suppliers.
In December 2015, the Center published an interactive map showing Bangladesh's 7,000 garment factories, shining a bright light on the true nature of the global fashion industry's supply chain. The map and accompanying report, "Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh's forgotten apparel workers," are the result of a year-long study in which the Center painstakingly poured over official records and followed leads on the ground, including a survey of almost 500 factories.
What the Center is Doing
The Center initiated a supply chains project in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in April 2013. Our original research in Bangladesh highlights an extreme example of the limits of current efforts to enhance working conditions in the supply chain. The aim of the project is to conceive and debate new approaches for sharing responsibility for ensuring that the benefits of globalization reach workers at all levels of the supply chain.
The Center's innovative research presents new evidence of the widespread practice of indirect sourcing – subcontracting without transparency or oversight – and argues that multinational brands are limiting the scope of their responsibility for ensuring minimum standards for labor rights to the top tier of factories in Bangladesh.
As the G7, OECD, ILO, and World Economic Forum take up the issue of supply chains in 2016, the Center’s research and advocacy is especially timely. While these institutions are recognizing the need for stronger rules governing supply chains, there is a need for more information about working conditions at all levels of the supply chain and ideas for how to ensure that all workers enjoy safety and dignity in the workplace.
Writing and Advocacy
- Factory map: "Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh's forgotten apparel workers," Sarah Labowitz and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, December 17, 2015
- Report: "Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh's forgotten apparel workers," Sarah Labowitz and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, December 17, 2015
- "Can Bangladesh’s garment industry ever be safe and sustainable?" Sarah Labowitz, Quartz India, December 10, 2015
- "A Tipping Point in Bangladesh?" Sarah Labowitz, Council on Foreign Relations Development Channel, December 8, 2015
- "Monitoring working conditions at factories won’t stop future tragedies," Sanchita Saxena and Sarah Labowitz, The Globe and Mail, August 10, 2015
Michael Posner serves as Chair of the Board of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Center actively participates in its activities. Founded in 1999, FLA is a collaborative effort of socially responsible companies, colleges and universities, and civil society organizations. It aims to create lasting solutions to abusive labor practices in manufacturing supply chains.