The Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) exists as an alliance of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade union organisations…in a hope to promote and improve working conditions of workers producing goods for the UK market.
There is an expectation that they can help to meet or exceeed international labour standards. The tuth is that they can provide guidelines but can not force it.
In my last article I wrote about how the confectionery industry was falling short or very short of helping to stop children from falling into slavery.
Unfortunately, with major stores like ASDA, Tesco and Primark also imposing low production cost, one result is Bangladeshi workers working in extreme inhumane conditions, long hours and both phyiscal and mental abuse.
In the UK, if a worker is sick or has a sick relative the employer can show humanity by giving time off. However, with the contracts in place with Bangladeshi suppliers, they (the factory owners) can impose whatever torment they want!
An investigation by The Guardian newspaper reveals the extent to UK retailers hung up on profits.
I am concerned when the view of some of the UK retailer board members suggests that they will do more harm by not trading!? Although they may conduct audits to find out how much is the system changing, I suspect it is not fast enough.
I visited, http://www.ethicaltrade.org/ and noticed that the site was first started in 1998. That is almost 10 years.
It is also worth visiting: http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,2114582,00.html , dated 28th June 2007. This report outlines how fruit picker: Gertruida Baartman (described as ‘at the bottom of Tesco’s food-chain supply’) has barely enough to eat. How she lost her job and had to fight to get it back as she campaigned for better conditions at her farm. This was after she returned from a meeting at Tesco. Read on to find out the discrepancy between big bonus awards and how the ETI is both voluntary and although it has strived to make a change, a study by Sussex University reveals that it needs to strive for more change.
The problem has to be inherently with us.
Consumers in the West want cheap clothes, ironically some designer wear is also low cost production based.
The fundamentals of change are based on changing commercial processes, for example:
* Improving audits
* More investment across more farms, e.g: fruit
* Allowing Trade unions to exist in clothing factories
* Greater ethical procedures in the way in which retailers deal with suppliers
* Consideration given to a living wage
* Communication with the consumer.
Would we pay more if we knew that the conditions at the source were getting better? I’m sure we would – no one has tried that one balanced with reduced director bonuses!
Although another article issued on July 5th 2007, headlines – ‘Our members have improved 3.3 million workers lives’ – no doubt this is from the Ethical Trade Initiative perspective. See: http://business.guardian.co.uk/greenbusiness/story/0,,2118893,00.html . It is clear that more needs to be done. The article suggests: Workers are best served by three things: trade unions that are free; employers that obey national labour laws; and governments that enforce it. Workers need much more of all three.
The key words that needs to be added and emphasized is ‘sustained commitment from all’ – agencies, retailers, employers and consumers.