Trading Away Our Rights: Women working in global supply chains | Trade Union | Globalization

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Though globalisation fuels valuable national export growth of many countries, women at the end of the supply chains of some of the world's most powerful companies do not receive a fair share of its benefits. Usually working as temporary workers working long hours without access to benefits, leaves, bonuses and sick pays, they struggle to provide for their families. The harsh reality faced by women workers in developing countries highlights one of the glaring failures of the current model of globalisation. Based on clear analysis of research results from various researchers within Oxfam International and partner organisations, this paper sets out clearly the need for fair trade and inclusive worker rights for women in particular across the global supply chain.
  TRADING AWAY OUR RIGHTS Women working in global supply chains    A  m   i   V   i   t  a   l  e   /   O  x   f  a  m  3 Summary 4 Introduction 9 1 Employed,yes – but precariously 16 Facing precarious employment 16Hidden costs beyond the workplace 26 2 Squeezed down the supply chain 32 The rise of global sourcing companies 33Employers’ strategies down the chain 39Governments’ strategies on labour laws and practices 39 3 Clothing the world 48 Worldwide manufacturers face retailer and brand power 48Hemmed in: pressure down the supply chain 50Factory managers: passing it on to workers 58 4 Injustice in the fi elds 66 Worldwide growers face supermarket superpowers 66Freshly squeezed: pressure down the supply chain 68Farm managers: passing it on to workers 76 5 Making trade workfor women as workers 82 Recommendations 83 Appendix O xfam and partners; background research reports; list of acronyms 90 Notes 94 Contents Acknowledgements This report was written by Kate Raworth and produced by Claire Harvey. It is the result of extensive collaboration between Oxfam International and partner organisations and researchersin many countries. Special thanks to all of the women workers, farm and factory managers, andsupply chain agents who shared their experiences and perspectives through the research process. Trading Away Our Rights is closely based on background studies commissioned together withOxfam’s partners in 12 countries (for full listing, see pages 90–91). The studies were written orled by: Abul Barkat, Saâd Belghazi, Pamelo Caro, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lyndsay Cunliffe, Centrefor Policy Alternatives, Estrella Díaz, Bruce Goldstein, Stephen Greenberg, Beethoven Herrera,Rakawin Lee, James B. Leonard, Diego López, Prisca Kamungi, Mafruza Khan, Elena Maleno,Maria Antonia Martínez, Charles Mather, Philip Mattera, Chalit Meesit, Rajaa Mejjati Alami, Liu Kai Ming, Greg Moher, National Group on Homeworking, Pun Ngai, Omar Ortez,Steve Ouma,Tania Belén Pérez, Mizanur Rahman, Geoff Sayer, Phan Wannaboriboon, and Lek Yimprasert.The report greatly benefited from support and comments from staff in Oxfam Internationaloffices across the world, as well as from many academics, trade unions, and other allies andreviewers. Particular thanks to: Juan Carlos Arita, Jeff Atkinson, Rosanna Barbero, Marta Barceló,Phil Bloomer, Deena Bosch, Sonia Cano, Ruth Collard, Tim Connor, Rosalina Cornejo, Carole Crabbe, Rachel Crossley, Katherine Daniels, Palash Kanti Das, Sumi Dhanarajan, Sophie Englebienne, Lot Felizco, Marlies Filbri, Justin Forsyth, Carlos Galian, Peter Gibbon, Eric Gottwald, Balachandiran Gowthaman, Matt Grainger, Gina Hocking, Billy Hung, Rosey Hurst, the IDS Global Value Chains group, Sana Jelassi, Nalini Kasinathan, Thalia Kidder,Liz Leaver, Trini Leung, Stephanie Linakis, Ileana Matamoros, Dina Mesbah, Cecilia Milan,Marleen Nolton, Bernadette Orr, Adrie Papma, Francis Perez, Aida Pesquera, Duncan Pruett and colleagues at ICFTU, Bernice Romero, Prakash Sethi, Selina Shelley, Minor Sinclair, Mary Sue Smiaroski, Ines Smyth, Gerard Steehouwer, Anne Stichelmans, Jung-ui Sul, Isabel Tamarit, Sophia Tickell, Hilde Vanregenmortel, Chema Vera, Kevin Watkins, Peter Williams,Rachel Wilshaw, and Ineke Zeldenrust.2 The report was edited by Anna Coryndon and designed byAlison Beaumont. First published by Oxfam International in 2004© Oxfam International 2004 Trading Away Our Rights is published by:Oxfam InternationalOxfam International Secretariat, Suite 20, 266 Banbury RoadOxford, OX2 7DL,UKwww.oxfam.orgAll rights reserved. This publication is copyright, but may be reproduced by any method without fee for advocacy, campaigning, and teaching purposes, but not for resale. The copyright holder requests that all such use be registeredwith them for impact assessment purposes. For copying inany other circumstances, or for re-use in other publications,or for translation or adaptation, prior written permissionmust be obtained from the publisher, and a fee may be payable.Printed by Information Press, EynshamISBN 0 85598 523 2Original language: EnglishA catalogue record for this publication is available from theBritish Library.Copies of this report and more information are available todownload at Or contact:Oxfam GB, 274 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7DZEmail: GB is registered as a charity (no. 202918) and is amember of Oxfam International.  5 social groups desperately need employment as a means of escaping poverty andinequality. But it is no escape at all if the way that they are employed turns theirvulnerability into an opportunity for employers to pay them less, work them harder and longer, and avoid paying their rightful benefits. The result is a gradual but fundamental shift in who will gain from trade under thecurrent model of globalisation. The benefits of flexibility for companies at the top of global supply chains have come at the cost of precarious employment for those at thebottom. If this is to be the future of export-oriented employment, trade will fall far shortof its potential for poverty reduction and gender equality.Oxfam’s research with partners in 12 countries involved interviews with hundreds of women workers and many farm and factory managers, supply chain agents, retail andbrand company staff, unions and government officials. It has revealed how retailers(supermarkets and department stores) and clothing brands are using their power insupply chains systematically to push many costs and risks of business on to producers,who in turn pass them on to working women. Chapter 1 sets out the impacts of thistrend on women workers and their families: ã In Chile, 75 per cent of women in the agricultural sector are hired on temporarycontracts picking fruit, and put in more than 60 hours a week during the season. But one in three still earns below the minimum wage. ã Fewer than half of the women employed in Bangladesh’s textile and garment exportsector have a contract, and the vast majority get no maternity or health coverage – but 80 per cent fear dismissal if they complain. ã In China’s Guangdong province, one of the world’s fastest growing industrial areas,young women face 150 hours of overtime each month in the garment factories – but60 per cent have no written contract and 90 per cent have no access to social insurance. The impacts of such precarious employment go far beyond the workplace. Most womenare still expected to raise children and care for sick and elderly relatives when theybecome cash-earners. They are doubly burdened, and, with little support from theirgovernments or employers to cope with it, the stress can destroy their own health, break up their families, and undermine their children’s chances of a better future. The result: the very workers who are the backbone of wealth creation in manydeveloping countries are being robbed of their share of the gains that trade could bring. The impacts are felt by workers in both rich and poor countries. Women and migrantsfrom poor communities in rich countries – such as US and Canadian agricultural workersand UK and Australian home-based workers – likewise face precarious terms of employ-ment in trade-competing sectors. The pressure of competition from low-cost imports is ‘As a casual worker, I do not get a bonus, or paid holiday or severance pay. I am looking for a place to stay so that I can collect all my children to stay with me. To be a mother with my chickens under my wings.’  1 Ragel, picking fruit in South Africa for export to UK supermarkets ‘We have to do overtime until midnight to earn a decent income. I am afraid of having children because I wouldn’t be able to feed them.’  2 Nong, 26, sewing underwear for Victoria’s Secret in Thailand ‘We don’t have the right to be sick. One day when I was not well and I took a doctor’s note to my employer, he gave me a written warning.’  3 Zakia,36,sewing garments for Spain ’ s El Corte Ingl é s in Morocco Globalisation has drawn millions of women into paid employment across the developingworld. Today, supermarkets and clothing stores source the products that they sell fromfarms and factories worldwide. At the end of their supply chains, the majority of workers – picking and packing fruit, sewing garments, cutting flowers – are women.Their work is fuelling valuable national export growth. And their jobs could be providingthe income, security, and support needed to lift them and their families out of poverty.Instead, women workers are systematically being denied their fair share of the benefitsbrought by globalisation.Commonly hired on short-term contracts – or with no contract at all – women areworking at high speed for low wages in unhealthy conditions. They are forced to put inlong hours to earn enough to get by. Most have no sick leave or maternity leave, few areenrolled in health or unemployment schemes, and fewer still have savings for thefuture. Instead of supporting long-term development, trade is reinforcing insecurity and vulnerability for millions of women workers.The harsh reality faced by women workers highlights one of the glaring failures of thecurrent model of globalisation. Over the past 20 years, the legal rights of powerfulcorporate entities have been dramatically deepened and extended. Through the WorldTrade Organization and regional and bilateral trade agreements, corporations now enjoyglobal protection for many newly introduced rights. As investors, the same companiesarelegally protected against a wide range of governments’ actions. Workers’ rights havemoved in the opposite direction. And it is no coincidence that the rise of the ‘flexible’worker has been accompanied by the rise of the female, often migrant, worker. The result is that corporate rights are becoming ever stronger, while poor people’s rightsand protections at work are being weakened, and women are paying the social costs. Exploiting the circumstances of vulnerable people – whether intentionally or not – is atthe heart of many employment strategies in global supply chains. Of course vulnerable 4 Summary  7 Companies increasingly hold up their ‘codes of conduct’ to assure the public that theycare about labour standards down the chain. But their farm and factory audits still focuson documenting the labour problems that exist, without asking why those problemspersist. Many factors can contribute – from poor management to weak nationallegislation. But one root cause, long overlooked, is the pressures of retailers’ and brandcompanies’ own supply-chain purchasing practices, undermining the very labourstandards that they claim to support. Anyone appalled by ‘sweat shop’ conditions in garment factories should be asking: who turned up the heat? The pressure on workers starts far from the factory floor –coming down the supply chain through retailers’ and brands’ strategies, as described inchapter 3. Their demands for ‘just-in-time’ delivery have typically cut production timesby 30 per cent in five years – coupled with smaller, less predictable orders and highairfreight costs for missed deadlines. Moroccan factories producing for Spain’s majordepartment store, El Corte Inglés, must turn orders round in less than seven days. ‘The shops always need to be full of new designs,’ said one production planning manager, ‘We pull out all the stops to meet the deadline ... Our image is on the line.’  But the image they hide is of young women working up to 16 hours a day to meet those deadlines,underpaid by 40 per cent for their long overtime working. ‘There’s a girl who’s sevenmonths pregnant working ten hours a day,’  said one garment worker, ‘and as she has tomake a lot of pieces per hour the employer doesn’t let her go to the toilet. It’s sheer torture for her, but she can’t afford to lose her job.’  Across countries, falling prices (for many garment producers, by 30 per cent over threeyears) increase the pressure to cut costs; sub-contracting to workshops with far worseconditions is a popular but hidden solution. And when buyers make no promise of future orders, their calls to improve labour standards ring hollow. No wonder that manymanagers falsify records and intimidate workers to answer questions ‘correctly’. The fresh produce industry – fruit, vegetables, and flowers – is inherently risky, but supermarkets’ tough negotiations can increase that gamble. As chapter 4 shows,farmers across the world are made to carry the costs and risks when supermarkets setprices long after the produce has been shipped, when they demand exclusive relationshipsbut then drop the order, and when they run cut-price promotions to achieve their ownsales targets. ‘The only ham left in the sandwich is our labour costs,’  said one South Africanapple farmer exporting to the UK’s biggest supermarket, Tesco. ‘If they squeeze us, it’s the only place where we can squeeze’. Little wonder that farmers like him areincreasingly hiring women on temporary contracts to work 11 hours a day in the fieldsfor poverty wages, with no sick leave, no maternity leave, and no income security. 6 clearly one reason, but so too is the pressure inherent in being employed at the end of amajor company’s global supply chain, whether it is sourcing overseas or domestically.One cause of such precarious conditions is the new business model that has emergedunder globalisation, described in chapter 2. Retail and brand companies have positionedthemselves as powerful gatekeepers between the world’s consumers and producers.Their global supply chains stretch from the supermarket shelves and clothes rails in theworld’s major shopping centres to the fruit and vegetable farms of Latin America andAfrica and the garment factories of South Asia and China. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggestretailer, has driven this model, buying products from 65,000 suppliers worldwide andselling to over 138 million consumers every week through its 1,300 stores in 10 countries. Globalisation has hugely strengthened the negotiating hand of retailers and brandcompanies. New technologies, trade liberalisation, and capital mobility have dramaticallyopened up the number of countries and producers from which they can source theirproducts, creating a growing number of producers vying for a place in their supplychains. At the same time, international mergers and acquisitions and aggressive pricingstrategies have concentrated market power in the hands of a few major retailers, nowbuilding international empires. These companies have tremendous power in theirnegotiations with producers and they use that power to push the costs and risks of business down the supply chain. Their business model, focused on maximising returnsfor shareholders, demands increasing flexibility through ‘just-in-time’ delivery, buttighter control over inputs and standards, and ever-lower prices. Under such pressures, factory and farm managers typically pass on the costs and risksto the weakest links in the chain: the workers they employ. For many producers, theirlabour strategy is simple: make it flexible and make it cheap. Faced with fluctuatingorders and falling prices, they hire workers on short-term contracts, set excessivetargets, and sub-contract to sub-standard, unseen producers. Pressured to meet tightturnaround times, they demand that workers put in long hours to meet shippingdeadlines. And to minimise resistance, they hire workers who are less likely to join trade unions (young women, often migrants and immigrants) and they intimidate orsack those who do stand up for their rights. Governments should be strengthening protection for workers in the face of theseintense commercial pressures. Instead many have traded away workers’ rights, in law or in practice. Under pressure from local and foreign investors and from IMF andWorld Bank loan conditions, they have too often allowed labour standards to be definedby the demands of supply chain flexibility: easier hiring and firing, more short-termcontracts, fewer benefits, and longer periods of overtime. It brings a short-termadvantage for trade, but at the risk of a long-term cost to society.
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