In relation to concerns about the building collapse in Bangladesh, killing so many garment workers (estimated at 1,000, or more), Neil Remington Abramson commented as follows (reproduced with permission):
Isn’t it always a surprise to an multinational enterprise that, even though they have a Corporate Social Responsibility plan, they only discover with the media that foreign workers who make their products are badly treated. The suspicion is that it’s only when the media finds out and starts communicating it to the customers of the multinational enterprise that it suddenly starts to matter.
Nike was surprised – who knew that the supervisors of the Nike contractor in Vietnam were beating the women making their shoes when their productivity wasn’t consistent, over a 16 hour day? And Coke was surprised – they just didn’t know, I guess – when union leaders were being murdered in Guatemala to drive wages down by two thirds. And recently Apple was surprised when the media found out the Chinese workers who make all the iPhones were being exploited, despite Apple’s best efforts to define at a theoretical level what was acceptable. THEY DIDN’T KNOW! Certainly they would have taken action if they’d known! Can you doubt it?! Like Reebok took action, instituting Corporate Social Responsibility in their Chinese factory to protect their workers from forced overtime. This led to considerably lower wages – going from good for the area to way low, barely surviving – because the base rate didn’t change. It is also unclear whether forced overtime has been eliminated.
Non-Government Organizations understand that the only way to get managers to know is by broadcasting what they are doing, or allowing, to the customers. If the customers care, the foreign workers will get Corporate Social Responsibility, which may be good or bad depending on the ethics of the manager of the multinational enterprise. Also depending on whether the media continues to take an interest. In IKEA’s case, Corporate Social Responsibility has been a good thing for suppliers’ workers. In Reebok’s, not so good. In Coke’s, only in individual cases, when caught.
The important thing to remember: THEY JUST DIDN’T KNOW – and never will, until we find out.