Can We Put an End to Sweatshops?: A New Democracy Forum on Raising Global Labor Standards Paperback – Oct 31 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
If Kathy Lee Gifford had read this brief but potent and provocative book, not only might she have avoided her public humiliation as a sweatshop profiteer off the labor of underpaid women in Honduras, but she might even have had a few intelligent solutions to the problem. After mid-1990s political activists advertised that firms like Nike, BUM and Montgomery Ward were making huge profits from slave-like factory labor in Third World countries, many consumers (as well as stockholders) were shocked enough to want to seek an end to the practice, but solutions were both elusive and complicated, as factories, standards and economies differed widely from country to country. Fung, O'Rourke and Sabel (who teach at Harvard, MIT and Columbia Law, respectively) propose a program called racheted labor standards "to ensure the most ambitious and feasible labor standards for workers given their economic development context." This plan "encourages the incremental realization of demanding labor standards" that would take into consideration cultural and economic differences as well as account for varying types of labor (such as home or factory-based). Cogently argued and enjoyable, their arguments are countered or supplemented by eight short responses from academics and activists in the field who critically gauge the viability and effectiveness of such a plan. The respondents present informed, engaged and well-argued positions that, combined, create a deeply thought-provoking volume. This heady mixture of economics, politics, theory and activism is an important addition to a heated debate.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
This latest entry in Beacon's New Democracy Forum series addresses sweatshops. The primary authors, professors at Harvard, MIT, and Columbia, propose a "Ratcheting Labor Standards" model based on four principles: transparency, competitive comparison, continuous improvement, and sanctions. Essentially, their approach builds on current monitoring of global labor practices by nongovernmental organizations and accounting firms; it calls for formalization of this monitoring and wide publication of results, including ranking of companies. An umpire (a nongovernmental organization or an international body such as the UN's International Labor Organization [ILO], the World Bank, or the International Monetary Fund) would monitor the monitors as well as the companies, generating statistics as a basis for a thoughtful global debate on labor standards. The respondents to this proposal include academics in a variety of fields, a union executive, a journalist, an ILO director, and the executive director of a human rights monitoring group. "Ratcheting Labor Standards" may not end sweatshops, but debate about this proposal clarifies the intellectual and practical barriers that the anti-sweatshop campaign faces. Mary Carroll
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