Brands: What companies (should) do

The CCC believes that brands should be responsible for the working conditions in their factories and thus must ensure that working conditions in their supply chains are decent and resolve problems when they arise. Brands must respect internationally recognised norms as established by the ILO and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But sweatshop abuses remain a deeply rooted systemic problem – no company is totally clean or totally dirty. Every company that sources globally encounters problems that must be addressed. While there are many steps companies can – and should – take (and some have already taken) to improve workers rights, there are no quick-fix solutions. The successful campaigns by the CCC and workers’ rights advocates across the globe have forced many corporations to adopt “codes of conduct”.

Most companies have adopted codes of conducts that promise certain working conditions for their workforces. Companies spend millions of euros annually on “ethical trading” initiatives, which mean that thousands of their factories are inspected annually. Despite all of this, however, it is no secret that poor working conditions and violations of the standards remain widespread, despite the fact that many of these companies have signed on to these standards.

The CCC continues to pressure brands to commit to these codes of conduct to give them real meaning by actually engaging in serious monitoring of current conditions, resolving issues and adopting business practices that better ensure that suppliers and factory owners provide decent working conditions and a living wage.

The CCC has come up with a model code of conduct that incorporates all of the relevant human rights points detailed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO’s labour standards.

The CCC’s code of conduct template consists of four steps:

• 1: Adoption of a comprehensive, credible and transparent code of conduct

This code should include all of the relevant human rights as detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ILO standards.

• 2: Implementation of the code of conduct

The real work begins in ensuring that the code of conduct is more than just words on paper. Implementation is crucial a crucial step to ensuring more decent working conditions. Companies should be made aware of the specific human rights risks in the countries they source from. They should monitor workplace conditions and foster increased involvement by the workers themselves. When code violations occur, the brands should work proactively with the other stakeholders, such as unions and national governments, to resolve the issues. The brands should also arrange their purchasing practices in order to further improve working conditions. This means that factory owners should, for example, commit to policies that guarantee a living wage and more realistic deadlines. 

• 3: Participation in a credible multistakeholder initiative

Sweatshop conditions remain a systematic problem in the garment industry, which means that no one company can effectively change the sector by itself. Companies must work together and also involve the production sites, NGOs, unions and governments in attaining the common goal of decent working conditions. This cooperation is best forged in a formal structure such as a Multi-Stakeholder Initiative. These organisations include factories, unions and NGOs and help provide the framework, platform and strategy necessary to improve garment factory working conditions.

• 4: Adoption of a proactive and positive approach towards freedom of association and collective bargaining

The only way conditions will improve is to ensure involvement of the workers themselves. Companies should adopt a positive approach towards unions in production sites and proactively engage them during monitoring sessions and follow-up plans that address necessary improvements. This gives the workers who are quite able to assess their own needs an effective voice with which they can bargain collectively with factory management regarding issues such as wages and working conditions.