Category Archives: JLP

JLP Responsible Sourcing Part VII: Working Hours

In our last post, we discussed the importance of employee representation and their need to freely associate, corresponding to section F of the report. In today’s post, we cover section G of The John Lewis Partnership‘s Responsible Sourcing Supplier Workbook which covers working hours.

In some countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and China in particular, some workers routinely work 12-16 hours, 7 days a week, in peak periods. Even in the UK, studies have found that a surprisingly high proportion of workers in the food production industry exceed 48 hours per week (and even 60 hours per week) on a regular basis. Furthermore, it is often the case that workers are not allowed to refuse overtime. The facts reported in the workbook are staggering:

  • nine economies reported over 2,000 annual hours worked per person in the latest year for which data was available to the ILO
  • 17% of UK employees work more than 48 hours per week
  • one in four workers in the UK working long hours reported suffering a physical ailment or stress as a result
  • an estimated 1.3 Billion working days are lost each year in the UK due to stress-related illness
  • workers in China often work 360 hours per month, and some up to 400 hours per month, almost twice the legal limit

This issue should be tackled immediately if you think you may have a problem. You can start by doing the following:

  • keep good records;
    this will allow you to identify the “hot spots” where long hours are the norm and seasonal peaks
  • gradually reduce hours;
    this will reduce employee stress and exhaustion and will result in increased productivity without any additional action; furthermore, improved production planning, communication, and training will also result in increased productivity allowing for a further hour reduction if overtime is a serious issue
  • increase wages to a fair level;
    if many employees are working long hours by choice, then this is a sign that they are not able to make ends meet working normal hours and wages need to be raised; furthermore, the increase in employee contentment and decrease in overtime-related stress and exhaustion should make up for most, if not all, of the productivity loss
  • make sure all overtime is voluntary
  • ensure all employees have enough time off for rest and sleep; furthermore, ensure that they have at least one day off a week, even during seasonal peaks – this can be accomplished with proper planning
  • make sure management fully understands the law and the rules related to overtime;
    managers who don’t are more likely than the employee to be the source of the problem

In our next post, we’ll tackle the seventh major issue addressed by the workbook, that of equality of treatment. (You can access all of the posts in the series (to-date) by selecting the JLP category at any time.)

JLP Responsible Sourcing Part VI: Freedom of Association and Employee Representation

In our last post, we focussed on discipline, and how you prevent discipline-related issues,

corresponding to section E of the report.

In today’s post, we cover section F of The John Lewis Partnership‘s Responsible Sourcing Supplier Workbook which covers freedom of association and employee representation.

In addition to a worker’s right to socialize with whomever they choose, freedom of association refers to a worker’s right to form and join a workers’ association, council, group, committee, and / or union of their choosing. A worker must have the right to belong to a group that provides them with an effective process to raise their concerns with management and which works to ensure continual good communication between workers and management.

Freedom of association and employee representation is important because it contributes to an employee’s sense of well being. It’s a proven fact that content employees who enjoy going to work everyday are much more productive than those who hate their jobs and fear going to work because they are degraded or abused. Consider the statistic in our last post that found that workplace bullying contributes to an estimated loss of 18 million working days every year in the UK alone. Imagine the global productivity loss from poor disciplinary management alone!

Associations, trade unions, and committees, when formed under good intentions and properly led, can help significantly by:

  • improving two-way communication between employees and managers
  • negotiating improvements to working conditions and compensation
  • acting as a positive force for change

It is true that there are often real and perceived barriers to freedom of association and employee representation, which include:

  • many companies find the concept of a union or worker’s group threatening
  • workers are often scared of putting themselves forward for election
  • in some countries, the formation of a union is illegal
  • sometimes the worker who is elected does not have the skills or training to effectively run the organization

But it is also true that these barriers can be easily overcome with education and a positive approach. The report offers some suggestions:

  • suggestion boxes as a mechanism for anonymous reporting of issues
  • committees to act as an interface between employees and management
  • informal committees to handle specific issues

The report also offers a checklist that you can follow to make sure that your employees have sufficient freedom of association and employee representation:

  • workers are able to collectively bargain regarding key aspects of employment
  • workers have a union, association, or committee they can use for reporting issues and collectively bargaining
  • management meets regularly with the union, association, or committee that handles employee representation
  • management actively responds to concerns and communicates outcomes
  • members or representatives of unions, associations, or committee are not treated differently in any way
  • employee representatives of such organizations can carry out their duties within working hours without penalty

Anyone who knows me well might wonder why I do not have a problem with this section of the JLP responsible sourcing workbook since they will believe I am adamantly against unions, as I have spoken quite negatively about them many times in the past. However, that view is specific to the formation of unions in IT and other knowledge industries in developed countries where adequate government protection exists to protect basic employee rights and freedoms. With regards to agricultural, manufacturing, and other hard-labor based industries in developing countries where there are little or no laws to protect the rights and freedoms of an employee, my stance is different. In that context, I have no problems with unions.

Furthermore, I believe unions could have a positive impact on many developing economies, just as they did in our own during the industrial revolution which took place a little more than a hundred years ago. Back then, we didn’t have all of the laws we do today that protect basic worker rights and freedoms. Furthermore, in a labor-based industry, the productivity is not going to vary much between your worst employee and best employee, and, thus, the notion of an open-market, while quite beneficial to a knowledge-based job where your top employee is order of magnitudes more productive than your average employee, does not have the same effect. And even if it had a slight impact on an organization’s ability to attract the best and brightest, considering the atrocious working conditions in some countries, this would be more than compensated by the improved working conditions that would result.

In our next post, we’ll tackle the sixth major issue addressed by the workbook, that of working hours. (You can access all of the posts in the series (to-date) by selecting the JLP category at any time.)

JLP Responsible Sourcing Part V: Discipline

In our last post, we discussed the issues of health, safety, and hygiene and the hazards you need to look out for, corresponding to section D of the report.

In today’s post, we cover section E of The John Lewis Partnership‘s Responsible Sourcing Supplier Workbook which covers discipline.

Discipline refers to the treatment of workers and the issue here is whether or not they are treated fairly and with respect. Unacceptable discipline ranges from verbal abuse, shouting and threat of abuse through bullying and illegal fines all the way to sexual harassment and abuse, beatings, and humiliating punishments.

Why is this an issue? Research by the John Lewis Partnership has discovered the following facts:

  • a sexual harassment study in commercial agriculture and textile manufacturing in Kenya found that over 90% of respondents had experienced or observed sexual abuse and 95% of women who had suffered abuse were afraid to report the problem for fear of losing their jobs
  • workers in England and Wales experienced an estimated 849,000 incidents of violence in 2002/2003
  • workplace bullying contributes to an estimated loss of 18 million working days every year in the UK as victims of workplace bullying take an average of seven additional days off per year

In order to prevent discipline-related issues, as an employer, you need to ensure that:

  • no worker is subject to, or threatened with, physical, sexual, or verbal abuse
  • managers, supervisors, and line-leaders do not use any kind of harassment, bullying, or intimidation
  • fines are not used as a disciplinary measure
  • disciplinary policies and procedures are transparent, applied equally to all employers, and effectively communicated to all workers in their language
  • there is a formal grievance procedure in place
  • managers and supervisors understand the disciplinary procedures
  • records are kept on disciplinary and grievance actions
  • dismissals are only on legal grounds
  • positive incentives are in place to promote good behavior

In our next post, we’ll tackle the fifth major issue addressed by the workbook, freedom of association and employee representation. (You can access all of the posts in the series (to-date) by selecting the JLP category at any time.)

JLP Responsible Sourcing Part IV: Health, Safety, and Hygiene

In our last post, we discussed forced labour and the issues it entails, corresponding to section C of the report.

In today’s post, we cover section D of The John Lewis Partnership‘s Responsible Sourcing Supplier Workbook which tackles health, safety, and hygiene issues.

Health and safety includes fire safety, machine and chemical usage, protective equipment, sanitary facilities, adequate first aid, and health and safety training.

Key problems include:

  • varying perceptions of what is safe and what is hazardous
  • lack of information about the risks and hazards
  • health and safety conditions are likely to be worse in subcontractor facilities

These problems are significant. JLP’s research has determined that:

  • more fatalities have occurred in the workplace than during war-time: almost 270 million accidents are recorded yearly, of which 2.2 million are fatal
  • over 208 million workers suffer from work related diseases
  • in China alone, the cost of occupational illnesses and work-related injuries is 100 Billion Yuan in direct losses, with indirect losses estimated to be double that, and 727,945 work-related accidents, including 126,760 work-related deaths, were reported in 2005 with an unknown number going unreported
  • in Africa, HIV prevents approximately 2 million people from going to work at any given moment, and this number is expected to double by 2015
  • this is an area where more than 60% of all non-compliances tend to occur during social audits, despite being one of the simplest to tackle and most heavily regulated

These, and other problems, are addressed by the JLP code which states:

  • a clean, safe, and healthy workplace in compliance with all applicable laws will be maintained
  • employers must take adequate steps to prevent accidents and injuries
  • health and safety risk assessments must be carried out regularly
  • regular health and safety training is to be provided to all workers
  • appropriate personal protective equipment is to be provided, free of charge, to all workers
  • workers shall be provided with access to clean drinking water and sanitary facilities at all time
  • on-site accommodations will be clean, safe, secure, and meet all basic needs
  • transport will meet national legal standards and minimize risks to the workforce
  • in geographically isolated areas, an employer will provide support services, including schooling, medical and health facilities, and recreational facilities
  • any food, beverages, and goods offered for sale by an employer must not cost more than average local costs

In order to insure that you comply with all regulations and provide a healthy, safe, and hygienic workplace, you should, at a minimum:

  • conduct regular risk assessments on your production sites (at least annually)
  • promptly identify any-and-all risks and take immediate actions to minimize, and if possible, remove these risks
  • provide workers with appropriate personal protective equipment free of charge and insure that they wear it at all time in hazardous areas
  • insure that all workers receive regular health and safety training appropriate to their jobs
  • insure the site contains sufficient fire exits and that these are clearly marked
  • insure all production areas have sufficient fire-fighting equipment
  • insure all workers who work with hazardous materials receive regular medical check-ups
  • have a formal, documented, health and safety policy
  • have clear procedures on what to do in the event of an emergency
  • insure there are a sufficient number of properly equipped first aid boxes readily available on the production site
  • insure a sufficient number of your staff are properly trained in first aid
  • clearly document safe usage instructions, in the workers’ native language, for all machinery
  • guard all dangerous parts of machinery and maintain them regularly
  • adhere to all the guidelines of the JLP code

The workbook also contains a methodology for conducting a proper risk assessment, an overview of what constitutes an effective training session, a process for setting up a health and safety committee, and tips on how to handle the issues surrounding the use of hazardous chemicals.

In our next post, we’ll tackle the fourth major issue addressed by the workbook, the issue of discipline. (You can access all of the posts in the series (to-date) by selecting the JLP category at any time.)

JLP Responsible Sourcing Part III: Forced Labour

In our last post, we discussed child labour and the issues you need to be concerned about, corresponding to section B of the report.

In today’s post, we cover section C of The John Lewis Partnership‘s Responsible Sourcing Supplier Workbook which tackles the issue of forced labour. Something for my fellow Canadians to reflect on while they celebrate Canada day today and something for my colleagues south of the border to reflect on while they celebrate Independence Day on Wednesday (July 4, 2007).

Forced labor refers to any work carried out under threat of penalty, which means that workers do not have a free and unencumbered choice when it comes to the work that they perform. There are many kinds of forced labour, and you need to be familiar with all of them in order to recognize whether or not any forced labor is taking place in your organization or that of your supplier organizations.

  • Forced Overtime

    At a basic level, forced labor includes the situation where workers are not given a choice about whether or not they work overtime.

  • Penalty-based Employment

    This happens when a production site required workers to pay a deposit when they enter the workforce and does not allow them to retrieve the deposit unless they work at the production site for a minimum length of time, when original ID papers are withheld from the employee, when employees are paid in tokens which can only be used to buy goods and services from the employer, or when threats and violence are used. This practice is common in many Asian countries, including China where it is illegal.

  • Bonded Labour

    This occurs when a person is forced to work, for minimal or no wage, to pay off a debt the worker or his or her family allegedly owes the employer. This includes workers who have been trafficked to a country to pay off their ‘travel’ debt.

  • Involuntary Prison Labour

    In some countries, prisoners may be forced to work against their will without wages in poor working conditions.

Forced labour is a serious issue not only because it can trigger a serious backlash in the press if they find out it is occurring at your plant, but also because:

  • the ILO estimates the number of victims of forced labour globally at approximately 12.3 million
  • it occurs regularly in Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and in sub-Saharan Africa
  • roughly two-thirds of total forced labour in Asia and the Pacific is due to economic exploitation
  • children in forced and bonded labour represent two-thirds of children in the worst forms of child labour, conservatively estimated at 5.7 million children worldwide

This means that, as an employer, you need to insure that :

  • workers are free to leave your site after their shift ends
  • your workers must have the freedom to leave without penalty with reasonable notice, which should be consistent with local laws, stated in contracts, and communicated effectively to workers
  • overtime is voluntary
  • deposits are immediately returned to workers after a minimum period of time, and immediately upon termination of employment (and they should sign to show they received the deposit)
  • if original ID papers are required for employment, only copies should be retained by management and the originals immediately returned after verification of authenticity
  • if loans are made to workers, the terms are clearly documented in the worker’s language, the loan does not tie the worker to your employment, the repayment terms are clearly documented and a system is in place for early repayment or reassignment to a new employer, the repayment amounts are reasonable in proportion to the workers’ total wage, and the worker clearly understands all of the terms of the loan before it is made in order to prevent bonded labour situations
  • you only use prison labor where the prisoners work in safe and hygienic environments, where they are compensated for their work, and where they have a choice
  • your supply chain is transparent with respect to labor as extreme forms of forced labour are most likely to occur in subcontracted production or in component suppliers

Many suppliers use weaker forms of forced labor, such as deposits and withholding of ID papers, as a tactic to combat very high turnover rates. This happens a lot in countries deemed Low Cost Countries, since the rapid influx of first world capital trying to take advantage of lower labor costs creates a shortage of skilled workers. This can often be avoided by educating suppliers that incentives and bonuses for fixed terms of service offer a much better retention scheme and by insuring that you pay a fair price for the product they produce (to make sure the supplier can afford to pay fair wages and bonuses to its staff).

In our next post, we’ll tackle the third major issue addressed by the workbook, that of health, safety, and hygiene. (You can access all of the posts in the series (to-date) by selecting the JLP category at any time.)