WASHINGTON — The Fair Labor Association, in an effort to make its monitoring initiatives more transparent, revealed in its first annual report that health and safety problems, and excessive working hours, are the biggest violations in apparel and footwear factories around the world.
However, controversy is already surrounding the report. Verite, a global independent monitoring company used by FLA to conduct external inspections and cited throughout the report, is calling the entire FLA study into question.
In its 150-page report, the FLA, which was launched through an antisweatshop task force created by the Clinton administration but now operates independently, tracked the monitoring efforts of seven apparel and footwear companies from Aug. 1, 2001 to July 31, 2002. Participating companies included Adidas-Salomon, Eddie Bauer, Levi Strauss & Co., Liz Claiborne Inc., Nike Inc., Phillips-Van Heusen and Reebok International Ltd.
“When we did take the time to review [the FLA report], we found many discrepancies,” said Mil Niepold, director of policy at Verite, which is based in Amherst, Mass. “The reports are posted as if we wrote them. We support transparency, but can’t have pseudo transparency.”
Verite withdrew from the FLA as an accredited monitoring company in November 2002, according to Niepold. She said Verite left because it was concerned about the low percentage of external audits the FLA requires.
“If you begin to remove things or change words or be selective of what you leave in, you change the tone of the whole report,” she said, citing a few examples where the FLA’s report differed from what Verite submitted to the FLA.
Verite’s accusations could be a setback for FLA, which faces heavy criticism from labor and human rights groups.
“We did revise the charges and informed monitors of how we revised them,” said Margaret Hawley, monitoring program coordinator of the FLA. “We have no interest in altering the findings in any way because we take transparency very seriously.”
She noted FLA altered the reports in several ways, including removing recommendations and commentary from the reports, but leaving the findings untouched if they matched against FLA bench marks.Mark Levinson, chief economist at UNITE, said there are “serious problems” with the FLA’s approach.
“This has been trumpeted as a triumph of transparency and a major breakthrough,” said Levinson. “But it doesn’t do any good when you don’t identify the factory names in a report.”
Independent monitors, who visited 185 factories around the world, found violations in the following areas: 26 percent of the total violations dealt with health and safety; 15 percent, excessive hours of work; 14 percent, wages and benefits; 8 percent, harassment or abuse; 8 percent, overtime compensation; 6 percent, freedom of association; 5 percent, child labor; 5 percent, forced labor, and 4 percent, discrimination.
“Every factory we go to, we find violations. That’s almost a given in developing countries,” said Auret van Heerden, executive director of the FLA. “We actually have unbelievable clout though, because the threat of losing a contract from a major brand is tremendous.”
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