Most of our customers are western buying companies wanting to improve labor conditions in their supply chain worldwide. Most purchase from other countries besides China extending our work with our clients to countries of some of the following: India, Bangladesh, Mexico, Turkey, Morroco, Romania, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia. Different country conditions often prompts the question “is it a responsible purchase”. Another way to ask the same question is if we should stop working with this country because of its general lack of social awareness.
I have mulled over this question even before becoming formally involved with social accountability and corporate social responsibility. The first time I asked myself this was in Morocco ten years ago. Every week, the prevalent garment industry there dispatched thousands of trucks crossing the Straits of Gibraltar with finished goods to more affluent Europe. It was common to witness Moroccan children climb onto the back of the trucks or trapped themselves amongst the goods to enter Europe despite the fatal risks of lack of water and food during the journey, dangers associated with jumping on moving trucks, and getting caught by law enforcement officers. At this time I felt the responsible approach was to buy things in countries like Morocco where in spite of conditions, it brought jobs to people that needed it. Jobs, however low-end, meant opportunities and could reduce the desperation of these youths risking their lives on those trucks. In the years since, my outlook has shifted dramatically after being exposed to absolutely horrendous working conditions that can not be considered as any type of opportunity except only for owners to exploit their laborforce.I have seen how such harsh and dangerous working conditions have slowly and surely destroyed the physical and mental state of employees leaving a demoralized and hopeless workforce. I am confronted again with the same question if it responsible to work with such factories. Sure, I can argue the creation of jobs. But at what cost?
Our experience in many developing countries gives WethicA the tools to analyze this issue extensively. Naturally, some countries have better general working conditions than others. But this by no means automatically assures every factory in “good working conditions” countries are up to those standards or even close, and vice versa with “bad working conditions” countries. More importantly, crucial differences in living costs, government policies and social organization prevents the application of any feasible global benchmark of absolute best or worst. Very often, a good situation in one country is considered a poor one in another. Taking in the overall situation of a country on to its own scale is key to identifying the good factories to use as the benchmark. Returning to the original question: should companies stop buying goods from one country because the general working conditions are worst than other countries? If that is the case, this will halt the potential of any progress, in particular with the good factories, throwing out all hope in achieving real improvement in that country. This can not be a responsible solution either.
Once again, we need to select the best factories with real potential for sustainable improvement based on the individual country’s benchmark, not a global standard. This I feel is the only responsible solution.