The Growth of Voluntary Labor Regulation

O’Rourke said that systems of nongovernmental labor regulation have grown rapidly over the past five years (Gereffi, Garcia-Johnson, and Sasser, 2001; Herrnstadt, 2001) because of “the failures of traditional state regulation of labor and environmental issues.” These failures are due not only to the limited technical and financial capacity of poor governments, he said, but also to developing countries’ failure to enforce their own laws. Another reason for the rapid growth of nongovernmental labor regulation, he said, is that global supply chains have developed and grown so quickly that enforcement of labor laws by individual states may be difficult or ineffective. In addition, government regulators have not provided the information on labor conditions increasingly demanded by consumers, socially responsible investors, and activists in the developed world. O’Rourke said that the new systems of nongovernmental labor regulation have grown, not only because of these weaknesses in traditional government regulation but also because of “important successes” during the short time the systems have been in place.

Today, O’Rourke said, there are “a multiplicity” of voluntary corporate codes of conduct and monitoring programs. They include internal programs, in which firms monitor labor practices in the facilities they own or purchase from, and external monitoring. Firms may hire a third party, outside the firm, to evaluate, audit factories, and certify compliance with corporate codes. In addition, O’Rourke said, there are independent verification efforts, involving organizations that are not paid directly by the company or the factory.

O’Rourke said that “some of the most important” labor monitoring systems are those that involve groups of companies and other stakeholders. These include the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production, created by the American Apparel Manufacturers Association; the SA8000 certification from Social Accountability International; and the Fair Labor Association, which evolved out of a Clinton Administration initiative, the Apparel Industry Partnership. In addition, O’Rourke said, the United Students Against Sweatshops and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (the largest U.S. garment workers’ union) joined to develop the Worker Rights Consortium. The British government provides most of the funding for the Ethical Trading Initiative, a partnership of U.K. unions and businesses. O’Rourke also noted that the Fair Wear Foundation, based in The Netherlands, has begun to conduct supply chain monitoring and veri



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