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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

Really disappointing to read this in today's Times (London)...

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It is very disappointing. Here are main points from the story:

"A BBC investigation reported that the low-cost fashion chain was being supplied by workers in Manchester who were being paid little more than half the minimum wage. The BBC said, was a sweatshop in the UK, not as horrendous as its peers from Bangladesh to China and Indonesia, but with workers allegedly working 12-hour days, seven days a week for less than the legal minimum £5.73 an hour.

The sub-contracted manufacturer denied the claims, Primark promised an investigation and the furore left embarrassed red faces all round, not least for a body that has been working for the past decade to improve conditions within the retail supply chain.

The ethical trading initiative (ETI) is a group formed of retailers, suppliers, government, trade unions and charities — and among its number is Primark. It joined the ETI in 2006 and has loudly trumpeted the fact. On its website, the retailer says: “Primark is determined that our focus on providing value and quality for customers should not be at the expense of the people in our supply chain.”

According to Dan Rees, the ETI's chief executive: “The allegations that came to light were fairly shocking. I think what the public expects from ETI now is that we respond rapidly and robustly and that is what we have done.”

Yet, Mr Rees, added, it would be impossible for the ETI to make such a guarantee: “The ETI is determined not to be a badge. It is impossible to have a badge of ethical performance across a massive supply chain, with complex issues where companies can be good at some things and rubbish at others.”

ETI was stepping up the pressure on its retail members, even amid the downturn. “These are challenging times and as every day goes by the severity of the recession and the potential risks to ethical trade grow. That is why we expect our members to step up to the plate and why ETI is to raise its game this year.”

Some retailers say that such aims are far-off ideals, particularly given the resistance to trade unions in some countries, including China.

ETI asks all its retail members to provide an annual report on their progress, which is reviewed by the ETI's non-governmental pressure group members, such as Oxfam, and by trade unions.

After a trial this year, that will be supported by random visits from an auditing party to 20 per cent of ETI's retail members.

Some members welcome the transparency, saying that those who are fulfilling their promises have nothing to fear, but as Ian Burgess, quality control manager at the Co-op, pointed out: “No one expects new members to have compliance [to ETI standards] within their supply base from day one.

The group is also reviewing its disciplinary process. The ultimate sanction is suspension, but this is not as simple as it sounds. The ETI knows it needs to work more closely than ever with those who are falling behind."
Makes you think companies are signing up to the ETI just for the positive PR...
I could not agree more. it seems that ETI has not power to enforce anything. the good old CSR marketing story...


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