The Right to Organize, Living Wage, and Real Change for Garment Workers
Sarah Adler-Milstein, Jessica Champagne and Theresa Haas
Sarah Adler-Milstein, Jessica Champagne and Theresa Haas show how consumer and labor movements have come together to work towards improving labor conditions in the garment industry in three case studies. They argue that these actions – collective efforts among workers, universities, students, consumers and advocates – point the way to broader change in the industry. The first case study examines the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic, which produces t-shirts and sweatshirts for hundreds of universities across the United States, pays a living wage, accepted unionization without resistance, and allows independent and transparent verification of its commitments. Initial research is demonstrating the impact that a living wage has on workers’ health, their children’s health, and the economic well-being of the community. A second case examines direct agreements between global brands and workers’ representatives, which create enforceable obligations that go beyond the non-binding corporate pledges that define corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. The authors profile agreements in Honduras as well as an unprecedented legally-enforceable contract between brands and retailers, international union federations, and unions in Bangladesh following the collapse of Rana Plaza in April 2013, which killed 1,129 workers. A third case highlights how the Designated Suppliers Program for universities, now under consideration at universities throughout the US and Canada, will force apparel brands that do business with universities to align their pricing and sourcing practices with their labor rights obligations, a reform that is essential if respect for worker rights in global supply chains is to be more than an empty corporate promise. The chapter analyzes the ways in which these campaigns are restructuring relationships between workers and global brands and creating enforceable obligations to improve labor standards in the industry. The authors reflect on their work in seeking these changes and the potential for change in other industries using these models.
- What is the relationship between university students, global brands and labor unions?
- Discuss how the three case studies differ in the groups of people involved, the methods of applying pressure to global brands and the outcomes for workers?
- Can changes in one location, such as the Alta Gracia factory, make a difference to the broader market? Why or why not?
- Can tragic events such as those described in Rana Plaza be a catalyst for change? Why or why not?
- Which is more effective and why: consumer pressure on global brands or labor unions strengthening and enforcing national labor laws? What is the relationship between these two strategies? What are the limitations of both approaches?