Vol. IV, Bulletin No.19. October 8, 1999
Corporate Responsibility Evoked at U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Coming: Global Sullivan Principles for Business
I never thought that I'd hear such ideas discussed in the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But there I was, in the Chamber's Anheuser-Busch Briefing Center, listening to:
The setting was the Chamber's October 6 conference on Corporate Responsibility and Globalization. Its purpose, said L. Craig Johnstone, senior vice president of international economic and national security affairs, was to celebrate corporate achievements and to examine "how we can do better."
- The Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, author of the Sullivan Principles for companies in South Africa under apartheid, saying that he, along with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, would soon announce the Global Sullivan Principles, designed to cover corporations large and small.
- The president of the American Apparel Manufacturers Assn., Larry Martin, describing a global initiative to eliminate sweatshops, with a code of conduct and a certification program supported by apparel manufacturers in Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean.
- The executive vice president of Business for Social Responsibility, Marjorie Chorlins, saying that the elements of "what makes a good business decision is shifting" and now involves working toward "a more just society."
Promoting the 'Work of God' in Corporate Chambers
Among nearly a dozen speakers in the morning session, Sullivan was by far the most hard-hitting. He gave a preview of the new Sullivan Principles, a charter designed to "help companies to put their houses in order" in the global economy. The Principles are "simple, direct, so a child could memorize them," he said, and would apply from Mobile, Alabama, to Peking, China. Among other things, it would ban child labor and guarantee the right of workers to organize.
"This is the work of God," Sullivan intoned, speaking as the preacher that he is. "My name must not be associated with a fake," he said. The initiative would rely on "the carrot rather than the hammer." But he added if the carrot does not produce results, "I will still have a hammer," which he suggested would involve disinvestment campaigns if necessary.
I stayed only for the first half of an all-day conference, long enough to sense that some Chamber leaders are exploring a new direction for the corporate world. Not long ago the Chamber hierarchy held the very notion of corporate codes of conduct as illicit. A business friend of mine was severely castigated for openly supporting codes.
Will this be a wind-blown change of direction or a change of heart? Maybe it doesn't matter, just as long as it happens. Reverend Sullivan seems dedicated to make it so.
(For background on Kofi Anan's interest in this area, see UN Chief's Appeal to Corporate Leaders: Respect Worker Rights. See subsequent article in that bulletin on how Annan regards the "hammer," or sanctions. The Chamber's Website, http://www.uschamber.com, has audio and video reports on the Corporate Responsibility conference.)
Mum's the Word on Unions in Honeywell Code
From exhibits at the Chamber of Commerce conference, I picked up a copy of Honeywell's "Code of Ethics and Business Conduct," issued in June 1998. For the most part, it does not deal with worker rights issues, but with a dozen other matters, such as insider trading, responding to press inquiries, and political contributions.
Four worker rights issues are covered: child labor (no one under 16 employed), discrimination and harassment, forced labor, and health and safety. Like most corporate codes, this one makes no mention of the right to organize or the right to collective bargaining.
In a rambling opening address at the Chamber's conference, Ted Turner, founder of CNN and vice chairman of Time Warner Inc., mentioned that corporation boards are more oligarchies than democracies. His characterization, which seemed meant as analytical rather than critical, helps explain the gap in corporate codes of conduct.
(For an ILO survey of the content of codes, see Corporate Codes of Conduct and Their Anti-Union Prejudices.)
The Un-Free Markets in Which Nike Thrives
After 200 workers at one Nike plant in Vietnam protested against Sunday work without premium pay, Nike had its Korean and Taiwanese contractors at all five shoe plants ban Sunday work. This decision, according to an October 4 USA Today story from Vietnam, "muted" labor trouble for Nike.
"While the plants are hardly inspiring places to work, they are better than they were" two years ago, USA Today reporter Julie Schmit wrote. But low wages remain a serious problem, she pointed out, citing these figures: "In Vietnam, workers making Nike and Reebok shoes make 51.5% less than the lowest skilled manufacturing workers at 99 foreign-owned companies recently surveyed by Bonwick & Associates in conjunction with compensation consultant William M. Mercer."
Another comparison cited by Schmit: "In one year, Nike paid [Michael] Jordan as much (about $25 million) to pitch its shoes as its [contractors] paid 35,000 Vietnamese to make them."
Nike maintains that its wages are driven by the market, Schmit reported, quoting Chris Helzer, Nike's manager of corporate responsibility in Vietnam: "We have to pay Michael Jordan...what the market dictates because he sells shoes for us. We pay workers this amount [$45 to $47 a month for 66 to 77-hour weeks] because that's the market."
Comment. What is the nature of these labor "markets" that Nike loves? "Those run by the butchers of Beijing, the military of Indonesia, and the Communist Party of Vietnam," says Jeff Ballinger, director of Press for Change, who distributed the USA Today article to a Nike-international listserv.
(Check http://www.usatoday.com/money/bcovmon.htm to read the text of USA Today's article.)
Watch for This Myth About Trade/Labor Linkage
In the controversy about linking trade rights and worker rights, one myth is that the opposition comes from developing countries. Wrong. It comes from governments of developing countries, especially the authoritarian ones, often at the urging of private business. Speaking for American employers, the U.S. Council for International Business firmly opposes such a linkage, which it considers "counterproductive." (For the September 21 USCIB letter to Congress on this subject, see http://www.uscib.org/policy/congtl.htm.)Lined up in strong support of a trade/labor linkage of some sort are trade unions across the world, in both developing and developed countries. Basically, the conflict is not North vs. South but capital vs. labor.That's a timely reminder in the run-up to the third ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization, an all-government agency, to be held in Seattle, Washington, from November 30 to December 3. It promises to be the biggest trade meeting ever held anywhere, and probably the most tumultuous.
Speaking for Workers, Hoping To Influence Governments
A huge delegation from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and its national affiliates, from both developing and developed countries, will be there in hopes of ensuring that the concerns of the workers of the world will be heard by the trade mandarins of the world.
Among those labor representatives will be Govindasamy Rajasekaran, secretary general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC). The 500,000-member MTUC and its leaders are veteran crusaders for human rights, not just for Malaysian workers but for workers throughout the world. The MTUC has long endorsed a trade/labor linkage, despite the opposition of the Malaysian government.
On the home front, the MTUC has had to lock horns with anti-union multinational corporations, such as the U.S.-based Harris Corporation. For 10 years now Harris, at its Malaysian plant, has fiercely stonewalled the efforts of its employees to gain recognition of their union.
(The MTUC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. For more information, check its Website at http://www.mtuc.org.my. On its home page, take note of the miniature masthead of Human Rights for Workers, a graphic link to this site.)
Diary: A New Bulletin So Soon? What's Up?
Two issues of Human Rights for Workers in the same week! It's never happened before in our nearly five years on the Web. Two issue a month is the standard.
What's happened? Well, for one thing, I had HRFW stories crying to be written and distributed. For another, the rest of this month, especially the last half, when I'd normally post another issue, will be unusually crammed.
I have to write a round-up on human rights developments for the Americana Encyclopedia annual, a perennial task of mine. Then, after a week's vacation, I have a new challenging assignment: writing a 30-minute talk on Worker Rights as Human Rights for a conference at the University of Washington and then delivering it on October 30. That all-day conference should give me several new stories crying to be written. Next month.
Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. IV-19, October 8, 1999
Robert A. Senser, editor
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