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Tag Archives: workers’ rights

SOURCE: Public Domain Pictures

Searching for that perfect Mother’s Day gift this year?  My suggestion is some reading material, all of which you can find here.  So go ahead and share this with loved ones this weekend.

Gift Idea #1:  Workplace Tips for Mom-to-Be

There’s the study “Professional Image Maintenance: How Women Navigate Pregnancy in the Workplace.” By Laura M. Little, Virginia Smith Major, Amanda S. Hinojosa, and Debra L. Nelson recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.

The authors were interested in understanding professional image maintenance at work. More specifically, they asked how employees sought to managing others’ perceptions of them, the better to maintain a viable professional image. In one of their three studies presented in the paper, they interviewed a sample of 35 mostly white, pregnant or recently pregnant working women employed in a range of jobs. The question they posed was this:  How does pregnancy affect working women’s professional experiences?

By and large, interviews revealed that pregnant women actively engage in “image maintenance.”  They actively attempt to manage others’ perceptions and reactions to their pregnancy in order to preserve the professional image they had before revealing their pregnancy.  Interviewees felt this image maintenance was necessary in order to avoid being stereotyped as “delicate” or “cute” or “irresponsible”—all of which have negative implications for their professional image and careers. Others cited the need to ensure that others did not see them as more likely to quit (which would have reduced their changes of winning good job assignments, promotions, etc.). How did these women do this?

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glass_blogimage_june-20141by Christy Glass

In a recent article published in Forbes (here), business writer Tim Worstall wonders why family-friendly policy advocates support paid maternity leave policies. In his view, such policies are not just ineffective but harmful to women because they damage women’s professional standing—and ultimately reduce their wages. Quoting a woman CEO who shares his views, Worstall argues that mothers should limit their time on paid leave or risk losing the confidence of their employer. So why on earth would anyone argue for more or better paid leave policies?

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The Trouble with Apple

Suicide at Foxconn. Poisoned workersColluding to inflate the price of e-booksTax evasion (albeit, legal). Shady suppliers who can’t toe the line of labor or environmental laws in China. Apple’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years. Or, so it seems it should have. But, despite the fact that news reports on the company’s behavior and supplier relationships have been more negative than positive since 2012, Apple’s revenue has continued to climb and break records.

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On April 24, 2013, the garment industry experienced the worst disaster on record when Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed killing 1,129 workers and injuring 2,500 more. In the few years preceding the collapse of Rana Plaza, hundreds had been killed in fires and other building collapses, leading activists to campaign for more brand name responsibility.

The Rana disaster finally resulted in over 70 companies, mostly European, signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

The Accord was rejected by most US companies as creating too much liability and involving special interests (i.e. unions), precisely two of its strengths according to labor rights experts. Instead US companies struck out on their own in July with the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative agreement (signed by 17 companies, led by Wal-Mart and the Gap).

Here we present a forum on these recent events with commentary from three sociologists who are experts on global apparel supply chains and the struggle over labor rights in factories in developing countries.

Jennifer Bair provides an in-depth examination of the differences between the Accord and the Wal-Mart/Gap agreement.

Jill Esbenshade argues that the Wal-Mart/Gap agreement is actually a step backward for labor rights.

Gay Seidman discusses the obstacles to improving basic factory health and safety conditions in developing countries in general, argues that government involvement is necessary for real change, and evaluates the recent announcement by the Obama administration that it is suspending trade privileges for Bangladesh due to concerns about labor rights violations and safety.

Following the recent collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed 1,129 workers and injured 2,500 more, over 70 companies, mostly Europeans, signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This Accord was rejected by most US companies, who instead announced the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative agreement, led by Wal-Mart and the Gap and signed by 17 companies.

The Wal-Mart/Gap agreement recreates the primary weaknesses of private monitoring, the centerpiece of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the global apparel industry for over a decade.

The consensus among researchers is that CSR monitoring has done little to improve the industry.  Although there is evidence that standard payment of wages and health and safety conditions have improved in some factories, overall we have seen a decline in real wages, a rise in the use of temporary and contract labor, the continuation of millions of dollars in wage theft, and the deaths of workers by violence, fires and building collapse.

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In the past few months, two disastrous factory fires and a massive building collapse have reminded us how dangerous apparel factories can be: airborne lint and dust can catch fire from an electrical spark; reverberating machinery can collapse weak structures.

Our shock should remind us of something more, however: these disasters were entirely preventable. In the century since New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, we have learned how to avoid industrial tragedies.  Labor activists, government reformers, consumer advocates and even enlightened employers know how to protect workers’ health and safety;industry groups and the ILO have long published reliable standards for decent work.

We know what measures create safer working conditions, and we can calculate minimum wage levels that allow workers to feed their families.  Most countries have passed laws that could protect workers from dangerous conditions and from exploitative employers; most brands have corporate codes of conduct that are supposed to reflect consumers’ desire to know that the shirts on their backs weren’t produced by slave labor.

Why, then, do we see so many factory disasters, so many deaths, in the 21st century? Why does it seem so difficult to prevent disasters that are, in fact, preventable? What might push employers to comply with basic health and safety laws, to protect workers from these entirely preventable disasters? And what international leverage might prompt governments to make sure their citizens are safe?

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