University of Iowa News Release
Jan. 6, 2004
UICHR Report Explores 'Code Of Conduct' Effectiveness
The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR) has submitted to the U.S. Department of State a report on the impact of voluntary codes of corporate conduct in eliminating sweatshop labor and other worker rights violations. The report, which runs more than 200 pages and is based on two years of research, also identifies how the effectiveness of such codes could be significantly enhanced by greater coordination with and support from the U.S. government.
The report, "Promoting International Worker Rights through Private Voluntary Initiatives: Public Relations or Public Policy?," was written by Elliot J. Schrage, a lawyer, teacher and advisor with extensive experience at the intersection of international human rights law and economic globalization.
The report reflects Schrage's discovery that codes of conduct constitute but a fraction of the private efforts that aim to eliminate sweatshop conditions worldwide. Also, it reflects his conclusion that these efforts can be strengthened by a more comprehensive, strategic role by the U.S. government to encourage and influence private sector initiatives. Edited by Burns H. Weston, emeritus professor of law and director of the UI Center for Human Rights, the report is a part of the UICHR's Global Workplace Research Initiative. It is available for downloading from the UICHR website at http://www.uichr.org/activities/sponsored/gwri.shtml.
Schrage's research shows that, in many industries, the most effective corporate codes of conduct have been complemented by broader initiatives such as education programs (covering company personnel, management at supply chain partners and workers at those facilities), monitoring programs (to determine whether supply chain partners comply with code provisions), incentive programs (to reward partners that comply with a code and punish those that do not) and remediation programs (to assist supply chain partners that have the desire but not the capacity to achieve compliance). His research highlights that, in addition to their direct benefits to workers, these initiatives generate indirect benefits that advance important U.S. foreign policy objectives, including respect for the rule of law, strengthening civil society and promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Schrage concludes that government support for private initiatives should not be the exclusive -- or even primary -- domain of the U.S. Department of Labor or USAID. Other parts of the Executive Branch, including the U.S. Trade Representative, must play a prominent role as well, helping to develop and implement a coherent policy toward private efforts.
The report says that at a minimum, the U.S. government should help to "set the stage" for private initiatives by promoting independent research on worker rights violations in the global supply chains of specific industries. Beyond that, government should articulate requirements for government support of private efforts, using its prestige and credibility to serve as an honest broker to endorse or "qualify" serious initiatives that address such violations. The United States should facilitate the establishment of "qualified" initiatives by helping the private sector build bridges to potential partners in their sourcing and customer markets. Finally, the report recommends that the U.S. should develop new mechanisms to encourage companies to participate in these initiatives.
The report uses four case studies to address the effectiveness of private voluntary initiatives, including but not restricted to codes of conduct, and how U.S. foreign policy should treat them. The case studies -- soccer ball production in Pakistan, coffee production in Central America, toy production in China and cocoa production in Côte d'Ivoire -- were chosen to ensure meaningful diversity of industrial sector and world region.
Weston said that Schrage's tremendous breadth of experience was crucial to the success of this project. He said the report reflects Schrage's "prodigious effort, acute insights and meticulous commitment to high standards. We are confident that Mr. Schrage's work on behalf of the UICHR will prove influential."
Schrage has worked in academe, the private sector and human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Center. Since 1990, he has been an adjunct professor at Columbia University, where he teaches a seminar on transnational business and international human rights. He is currently an adjunct Senior Fellow in Business and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations where his research focuses on the social consequences of globalization.
Earlier Schrage served as a consultant to, and then senior vice president of Global Affairs for, Gap Inc., the largest specialty retailer in the United States. In this position, he directed the company's corporate social responsibility initiatives and managed the company's Global Compliance organization, an integrated team of over eighty professionals in 20 countries charged with inspecting working conditions at factories that manufacture products for the Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic brands.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.