By TIM LOGAN
Monitoring not only solution to human rights problems
Compliance monitoring is an essential element in the fight against sweatshop labor, but it is just one of the elements necessary to successfully combat abuse of workers, panelists told the sweatshop symposium Monday.
Establishing standards, educating factories about those standards and helping those factories solve their abuse problems are all important steps for companies that want to prevent worker exploitation, said monitoring expert Randy Rankin.
"Compliance monitoring is just a piece of this overall framework," Rankin said. He is coordinator of sweatshop monitoring teams for Pricewaterhouse Coopers, an international accounting firm which a number of apparel manufacturers — including Notre Dame — have hired to ensure labor code compliance in their licensed factories.
While Rankin addressed the issue largely from the perspective of what companies can do to better enforce their codes, his co-panelist David Schilling reminded the audience of the human cost of labor abuse.
"The sweatshop issue is not about monitoring," said Schilling, a Methodist minister who runs monitoring for the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibilities. "It is about protecting and affirming the lives of workers in factories."
He urged people to consider the immense challenges faced by workers who earn $6 per week making clothing in Indonesia.
"When we talk about monitoring, let's not forget these people and these communities," he said.
Schilling contended that the best workplace monitors were usually indigenous to the region where factories are located because they understand and can relate to the workers better.
Rankin agreed, noting that well-trained monitors who understand the issues with which workers deal communicate better with those workers and learn more about the realities of factory conditions in their necessarily brief visits.
"You simply cannot be in every factory every single day," he said. "It becomes critical that when you do that monitoring visit that you get the most out of it."
Pricewaterhouse Coopers will run approximately 5,000 factory inspections in the next year, according to Rankin. These will usually consist of two monitors spending a day at a factory and putting together a report. The average visit costs between $1,200 and $1,700 for the companies that hire the firm.
More than 80 percent of inspected factories have "substantial" abuses, Rankin estimated, although that number is down approximately 10 percent from several years ago. He attributed this to higher standards on the part of corporations, better communication of these standards to the factories and improved monitoring and remediation attempts when standards are not met.
Schilling urged Notre Dame not to rest on this progress, though. He urged the University to lead the academic community in addressing the sweatshop issue and working at the grass roots level to stand against flagrant labor abuse and improve the lives of workers.
All News Stories for Tuesday, October 26, 1999