Supply Chain Managers are facing unprecedented pressure from consumer and activist groups to increase transparency regarding the sustainability, ethics, and fair labor standards of their low cost country suppliers.  The high profile story of Apple's Chinese supplier FoxConn and their factories' labor conditions have led many to investigate how labor conditions come to be harsh or unfair and what can be done to avoid it.  Some resources that supply managers can utilize while looking into low cost country suppliers and labor include the Fair Labor Association, The Workers Rights Consortium, and The Ethical Trading Initiative.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) is an association of businesses, universities, and nonprofits which advise, investigate, and promote fair labor standards in factories, farms, and other labor-intensive businesses.  The FLA was thrust into the spotlight for launching the investigation into  conditions at the FoxConn factories that supply and assemble many popular Apple products.  They released their much anticipated report on FoxConn at the end of March 2012 after interviewing over 35,000 workers.

The Workers Rights Consortium is an independent labor right monitoring organization focused on apparel.  They are currently working to develop an approved supplier list which universities can use to avoid sweatshop labor for university-branded apparel.

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) is an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organizations. They provide ethical trade toolkits and other resources to organizations looking to trade ethically.  Based on ETI's definition, ethical trade means that retailers and their suppliers take responsibility for improving the working conditions of the people who make the products they sell. Corporations that are members of the ETI utilize labor from poor and vulnerable workers, homeworkers, and developing countries in an ethical manner based on the ETI code of conduct.

Supply Chain Ethics and Sustainability is an important issue for supply chain managers.  Any sourcing initiative that utilizes low cost country suppliers should take ethics and supplier labor practices into consideration.
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Scott Decker

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