Here’s a hypothetical thought. Suppose I was walking along the street one day and a Chinese man walked up to me and kicked me.
I’m absolutely certain I would say “Ow” and I might also enquire (politely, of course) what had led him to such a course of action.
Now imagine you were walking down a different street in a different country, and a Mexican walked up to you and kicked you.
Do you think your pain or response would be dramatically different because of the different people and circumstances involved?
I doubt it.
One of the very interesting effects (but not intentions) of the CSR and sustainability agenda is the way it breaks down stovepiping between different industries and companies. Take the recent report from Labour Behind the Label and War On Want (PDF download) for example.
This focuses upon how the commitments on fair wages made by all the UK’s fashion retailers (except for Debenhams, apparently) haven’t been properly followed up on the ground, leading to wages still being paid at half the required living wage.
Part of the problem, however, is that garment workers don’t fully appreciate how much money they need to live to an acceptable standard. This has led to demands from Bangladeshi factory workers for half of what independent monitors believe should be the minimum wage.
And here’s the rub. If a high street retailer were to take those demands at face value it would still be paying those workers less than a living wage. Should it take those demands at face value, or should it seek to verify them? A difficult and sticky question.
The report highlights other issues, including health and safety and employment conditions. However its core message, which all industries should take note of, is how responsible is responsibility?
How Responsible is Responsibility?
The answer to that question is pretty simple: if it happens in your supply chain then you’re responsible for it.
However, in a paragraph entitled “CSR: Avoiding the Issue?” the report points to retailers’ focus upon productivity rather than working conditions.
This is the danger CSR reporting has been riding towards for several years now. The “green revolution” has been sold on the back of greater productivity or increased profits yet neither of these are the true aim of CSR. In this context, CSR’s aim has always been to boost the take home pay of the bottom line worker—to stop their exploitation for profit.
This is a lesson each and every business needs to take hold of. CSR is not about bolstering your business through introducing new marketing or productivity initiatives; it’s about ensuring those people who actually produce the manufactured goods you use receive a proper wage and enjoy safe and healthy living conditions.
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