In Tuesday speech, Scott Nova talked about reasons sweatshops exist and why improvements are so difficult
Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, spoke Tuesday about the abused workers of well-known consumer brands. The speech was made possible by the Coalition Against Sweatshop Abuses and the Worker Rights Consortium.
Brand names like Nike are worn daily by millions of people, yet little thought goes into the factories in association with the company. People around the globe are struggling with workers’ rights issues with brand-name companies, and Nova came to CU to speak out about this issue.
|>> ABOUT CASA|
|CASA is an organization that has been fighting for years for the rights of workers. Through their struggles the University has become part of the Designated Suppliers Program, which means that the apparel with the CU logo on it will be in association with factories and brand that are working for fair labor rights.
Last year, CASA members went on a two week hunger strike in order to increase the awareness of the University of the problems with workers’ rights. The result was a success. CU adopted the Designated Suppliers Program.
– DANA SILVA
Sweatshops exist around the world, collaborating with major brands like Nike. Nova explained that there are two main reasons why sweatshops continue to exist. First, companies are under a tremendous amount of pressure to cut costs. Second, there is an absence of effective labor law enforcement in the places where the product is produced.
“There are no consequences. They can get away with (sweatshops),” Nova said.
Most factories in places like Russia, China, the Dominican Republic and the global south have strict labor laws on paper. However, these laws are absent from the actual way the factory is run.
Nike and other brands such as Reebok and Adidas always put consumers and shareholders first. Because of this, workers get neglected.
“They will never put workers’ rights at the top of their priority list,” Nova said.
Since the consumers are the main concern of the companies, their image among consumers is very important.
“The value of the enterprise is the image. Nike has made a universally positive image. It is virtually recognized around the world with the Nike swoosh,” Nova said. “Overseas factories represented a very large threat with the negative publicity about the worker’s rights.”
Because of this, Nike was forced to embrace the concept of corporate responsibility. Codes of conduct were enforced throughout major corporations and their factories. They are meant to increase good working conditions through higher wages, fewer work hours, the support of unions and safer working conditions.
“The code of conduct is demanded in all factories to prevent things like child labor,” said Claudia Ebel, a sophomore international affairs major and part of CASA.
Nike has now become one of the brands that has done the most work towards this cause, yet it has failed to make a significant difference. Roughly 78 percent of supplier factories’ rights have stayed the same or deteriorated, according to a study done by Richard Locke, faculty director of the MIT Sloan Fellows Program.
The reason why the codes of conduct have failed is due to the pressure put on factories to cut costs.
“It costs more to produce clothing under good conditions than bad conditions,” Nova said.
The factories have been told to improve working conditions, which costs money. Yet at the same time, they are told to reduce production costs.
“They have to improve labor rights and compete with others with cheaper products with poorer labor rights,” Nova said. ” As a result, the most reasonable improvements have been denied or met with heavy resistance.”
An example of this predicament is the BJMB factory in the Dominican Republic. It was a labor rights success. The factory improved its conditions to make them safer and worked to make the factory a better place to work. Workers there were asking for higher wages.
“They did what was supposed to be done. I was hoping they’d be embraced but the opposite happened,” Nova said.
Recently, Nike announced that the factory is closing.
“Rather than being rewarded, it has been punished. It’s an example of the problem of workers’ rights,” Nova said.
Because of this, codes like the Designated Suppliers Program have been failing. However, there have been slight improvements.
“It is better than it was before because there is at least recognition of the codes,” Nova said.
Even though the issue of sweatshops and poor workers’ rights is well known in association with brands like Nike, people keep buying the products.
“I don’t think people can relate to the cruelty of what is going on. It’s like any huge problem,” said Ben Chaffee, a freshman psychology and religious studies major.
The popularity of the brands remains high and the movement of workers’ rights is still a struggle.
“I think people believe that they are just one person and they can’t make a difference,” said Sara Luer, a freshman sociology major.
Groups such as CASA and the Worker Right Consortium have been working towards improving and protecting labor rights.
“We’ve been working for years for a campaign to end sweatshops, especially with brands with university apparel,” Ebel said.
Contact Campus Press staff writer Dana Silva at email@example.com.