Societal Damnation #48: Worker’s Rights

Now, you’re probably wondering why this is a damnation. Worker’s rights are a good thing, and if one is ethical, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them or respecting them. The problem is, not everyone is ethical, especially in the corporate world. One has to remember that 1% of the population are psychopaths (with enduring antisocial behaviour, diminished empathy and remorse, and disinhibited or bold behaviour), and that the top four professions that attract psychopaths are

  1. CEO
  2. Lawyer
  3. Media / Publicist / PR / Marketer
  4. Salesperson

and four of the five jobs that every company relies on. You can’t have a company without an incorporation, and laws are so convoluted in most places that you pretty much need a lawyer. Plus, once you get big, you’re gonna get sued. A company needs a leader. A company has to sell something to survive, and it has to advertise that something. The only other must is that it must keep its books and pay its taxes (Finance). In a nutshell, your company is evil. The only real question is “how evil”. Skim a bit off the top evil? Steal from sick grandmas evil? Drown the kittens evil? Or sell guns on the mass market to a guerrilla group planning a coup and a mass genocide evil? (Google knows this. Why do you think it’s motto is “don’t be evil”? It knows that, especially with the power it holds, without a constant, conscious, effort to not be evil it wouldn’t take much to fall down that slippery slope and become the most evil weapon of the most evil empire on the planet as it has access to more data than even the NSA.)

In a nutshell, regardless of the talk they talk, or the walk they walk when they are looking, these psychopaths don’t care about respecting worker’s rights beyond what is absolutely mandated under law (as they don’t want to get sued or fined as that tarnishes the brand imaged which, for most companies these days, is their biggest asset and, thus, their biggest money maker).

Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if every country had good worker’s rights laws and agencies that insured those laws were enforced, but we know that, outside of the prosperous first world nations, there is a lack of worker’s rights laws, if there are any laws at all. In some countries, it’s not uncommon for employers to force employees to work 12 hours a day, in unsafe working conditions with insufficient access to clean water, without any protective gear, under the constant fear of immediate dismissal without recourse if they don’t hit high productivity targets for wages less than what an acceptable minimum wage would be if there was one. If working conditions were good across the board, employees had access to the help and services they need, and employees were generally happy, you wouldn’t see headlines like this Headline from the Huffington Post in 2011 that said Apple Manufacturer Foxconn Makes Employees Sign ‘No Suicide’ pact, which, of course, followed headlines like Foxconn worker plunges to death at China plant, which were numerous as at least 20 employees attempted suicide in 2010 and 2011 at Foxconn, as chronicled on the Foxconn Suicides Wikipedia page.

And while we might want to pretend the companies we buy from are socially responsible and only buy from companies that are themselves socially responsible, that’s not always the case. (We shouldn’t have to enact anti-human trafficking laws in the supply chain in this day and age, but California and the UK just did because we still have to! See a summary of various acts against human trafficking in California on the Office of the Attorney General site and the UK Modern Slavery Act is here.) If the companies we bought from really were socially responsible, we wouldn’t have seen the headline that More than 100 die in garment factory fire, the deadliest in Bangladesh’s history or Death toll from Bangladesh building collapse climbs above 400 as no one would have working in these buildings to begin with if these companies were socially responsible and respected the rights of a worker to work in safe working conditions.

And making sure your suppliers respect workers rights, so you don’t get a media black eye and a tarnished brand, is not so easy. You can’t schedule an audit — they’ll clean up the plant, instruct the workers who are the most subservient on what to say, send any they don’t trust home, reduce numbers to those they have sufficient safety gear for, and even bring in a doctor for a day to show you they care about employee health. The next day, the doctor is gone, the facilities are dirty and crowded, and it’s back to business abusing employees as usual. Now, if they know you might show up for random audits, they’ll employ one or more tricks to make it look like they’re better than they are, which might include misdirection or outsourcing.  We’ll tackle misdirection first.

If the supplier is big enough and serves enough big customers, they will need multiple plants and locations. A cunning supplier subject to, or afraid of, random audits will designate one plant as the “customer” plant for *every* customer, and in that one plant they will be sure to spend extra time making sure it is clean, uncrowded, and safe. They won’t get much done in that plant, because the whole point will be to make sure it always looks good for a surprise visit. Meanwhile, their other plants will be overcrowded in squalor conditions to keep their overall cost low.

Smaller, cunning, suppliers, who can’t afford extra factories, or don’t want the headaches of having to appear responsible at all times due to the threat of constant, random audits will instead outsource the more dangerous, dirty, or workforce heavy task to a sub-supplier who they claim will meet the requirements you place on them for fair worker treatment but who, in essence, do not come anywhere close.

It’s a management nightmare with the constant risk that a bad media circus could erupt at any time.  It’s pure damnation as you will do your best but still get blamed when a scheming supplier does its worst.