Thursday, September 18, 2014

Voluntary codes of conduct in supply chains

The Journal of Cleaner Production (yes, that’s a thing!) has just published an interesting article entitled “Do codes of conduct improve worker rights in supply chains? A study of Fair Wear Foundation”. Factories and wholesalers often adopt voluntary codes of conduct in factories in the developing world when faced with allegations of inhumane working conditions (e.g., child labour, deaths due to factory fires or collapses). The question is whether these code have any real impact. This article suggests the answer is “not really”.

Here is the abstract:
The rise of private regulation of sustainability in global production networks has led to intensive debates about the impact of this regulation at the point of production. Yet, few empirical studies have systematically examined this impact in practice. Based on multiple factory audits of 43 garment factories conducted by the multi-stakeholder initiative Fair Wear Foundation, we show that codes of conduct improve (although marginally) worker rights on an overall level but that few significant results are found for specific worker rights. 
Our findings also lend support to the widespread argument that codes have uneven impact. Furthermore, we show that even rigorous multi-stakeholder factory audits seldom are able to identify process rights violations (such as those affecting freedom of association and discrimination), and that auditing is thus is more fundamentally flawed than assumed in previous research. Given companies’ extensive investments in private regulation of worker rights, the findings have important implications for both scholars and managers.
-- Bob Barnetson

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