The ILC (International Labor Conference) is addressing labor rights deficits in the supply chains of multinational companies. The expansion of global supply chains has been driven by a business model expressly designed to take advantage of low wages and inadequate regulation and enforcement. While more than one fifth of the global workforce has a job in a global supply chain, respect for workers’ rights in supply chains is declining. In the garment industry, there was a 73 per cent drop in the workers’ rights score of the top 20 apparel exporters to the US between 1989 and 2010. At the same time there was a 42 per cent reduction in the price paid for the clothes they produced.
Voluntary corporate social responsibility initiatives have failed. They have not been able to meaningfully improve wages and shorten working hours or to ensure respect for workers’ right to join a union – or their right to a safe workplace.
ILC discussions include working toward a convention on global supply chains to address these deficits. A convention would establish greater accountability for wages and working conditions and clarify the roles and responsibilities of both suppliers and buyers for ensuring labor rights.