Source: Boston Review, May/June 2013
Richard M. Locke:
Companies such as Nike and Apple have invested a lot in private programs to improve working conditions in their suppliers’ factories. Do the programs work? Not really.
Apple’s recent supplier-responsibility report is silent on changes to its purchasing practices.
Even firms praised for responsibility flee countries where reforms are underway.
Jodi L. Short and Michael W. Toffel:
Codes of conduct can support the political action necessary to improve conditions.
Governments in big emerging economies can pressure foreign companies.
When human capital is valued, labor rights are not far behind.
Corruption and intellectual property theft also pose ethical challenges in global supply chains.
The threat of trade sanctions improved labor conditions a century ago, and it can again today.
We need to know more about what kinds of private regulation work best.
Companies should press host-country governments to enable freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Richard M. Locke replies:
Until the costs and benefits of doing business are shared among everyone involved, innovation will produce at best limited results.