This chapter on corporate social responsibility uses “social” in its narrower sense, as distinct from environmental issues, focusing primarily on the corporate workplace – from factories, mines and farms to retail stores – and also on corporate philanthropy. The chapter covers the remaining segment of the “triple bottom line,” having covered financial issues in Chapter 2 and environmental issues in Chapter 3.
Workplace issues have been globalized and now focus seriously on supply-chain management. Community issues tend to be addressed primarily in relation to company headquarters, although product safety issues can be global and corporate philanthropy is becoming more global (as the response to the tsunami in 2004 indicated). These issues have all been pushed to the top tier of corporate priorities by publicity, consumer activism, or aspirations of senior managers or principal shareholders. The related ethical, legal, and economic questions perplex CEOs and do not lend themselves to easy answers:
Is treating workers fairly something a company should do because it is right or because it is the company’s best interest, or both, or neither? Henry Ford doubled the pay of his workers because he was able to (profits were high), and he said it was an easy decision because it helped his workers to buy his Model T. But could this consequentialist logic be turned aroundto justify Wal-Mart paying its workers less, so that they can’t afford to shop anywhere but Wal-Mart?
What standards of workplace and community responsibility should be accepted? Should you as an executive recommend your company go for an easy-to-meet standard that doesn’t cost much but is also not worth very much, or should you try to go for a more challenging standard that has high credibility and might bring some side benefits (cost savings, marketing advantages) to the company? Would it be too costly to go for the higher standard?
How wide a variation in workplace standards is acceptable?In a global economy in which the culture where goods are manufactured may be very different from the one in which they are sold? How significant are reputational risks in your consumer market raised by your activities in the producer location? Is this a risk only for companies, or is there a national risk? Should the U.S. Government have a policy on corporate social responsibility? Why not just regulate business? Workplace and consumer-protection practices, and government regulation, have often evolved in the aftermath of scandal and tragedy.
How should your company respond to variations among countries in legal enforcement? Developing countries have great differences in their legal systems, their level of law enforcement and the culture of compliance. How does a multinational company best operate in this environment to minimize negative exposure to its brand(s)?
Should corporate giving be strategically related to brand-building or in the long run is it better to make it independent? For example, pharmaceutical companies are expected to improve people’s health—should corporate charity in this industry therefore focus on medical education and public health programs? The argument for this is that they possess the appropriate expertise and can provide medical products and services at cost. But what if doing so might have the effect of undercutting their market demand fro their goods and services? Do desperately poor people in Africa have an inalienable right to medicines at a price they can afford, for widespread, life-threatening illnesses? If so, who is responsible for responding to this right?
How much does CSR contribute to actual brand sales? Polls show that consumers and investors say they care about CSR and will choose products to buy and companies to invest in with an eye on their social records. But do significant numbers of consumers and investors actually behave as they say they will? If they do act on the social records of companies, how reliable are the records they use?
What is the most effective way to focus attention on a company’s CSR efforts for brand-building? Should CSR information be in a separate CSR report or incorporated in the annual report? If included in the annual report, how much space should be devoted to CSR? How easily can consumers identify corporate behavior at the point of purchase? Are investors able to find out about CSR records at the point when they buy a security?
What CSR activities bring value to the financial bottom line? What CSR activities bring value to the company independent of the brand value to consumers and investors? For example, does the activity increase productivity, reduce costs, improve quality, create more loyal employees, and improve management? Can CSR policies and measures help select business partners that are well-managed, reliable, and ethical?
Who can best influence workplace standards in developing countries? In industrialized countries, consumers, socially responsible investors, NGOs and the media may advocate CSR. In developing countries, CSR practices are often the product of customer supply-chain demands, but sometimes also domestic demand and CSR leadership. How does the source of demand for CSR affect producer response?
Can low-cost retailers continue to focus almost exclusively on price in the supply chain? Can a company like Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, address negative NGO campaigns primarily by attention to environmental issues, without responding to workplace issues?
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, industrialization created sweatshop conditions in Europe and the United States. Improvement was gradual, through a long process of public education, passage and enforcement of regulations, union organizing, the gradual emergence of a culture of compliance and the development of human resources and other management systems.
Public concern and reform started in Europe in the mid-19th century. U.S. concern was ignited by Jacob A. Riis’s book, How the Other Half Lives (1890) and Lewis W. Hine’s haunting photographs of children working in mines, textile mills, and factories. A critical event in U.S. labor history was the Triangle Shirtwaist fire on March 25, 1911.The disaster occurred on Greene Street, east of Washington Square, in what is now NYU’s Brown Building, next door to where the NYU Law School was then. The Triangle factory was on the top two floors and 146 young girls died largely because the fire exits were locked. The fire led within four years to 36 new worker-safety regulations in NY City and NY State. A staffer of the NY State Factory Investigating Commission, Frances Perkins, was brought by FDR in March 1933 to Washington as U.S. Secretary of Labor, the first-ever female Cabinet member. Secretary Perkins introduced many New Deal labor laws including Social Security.
As public attention was drawn to labor issues, unions strengthened and a range of state and municipal laws in the North required payment for overtime and restricted child labor. But conditions remained largely unregulated, segregated, and dire in the South, where unionization proved more difficult.
The New Deal established national standards and enforcement measures. The National Labor Relations Act (1935) created a labor arbitrator, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) provided a Federal (1) guarantee of the right of workers to select a union, (2) ban against unfair labor practices, (3) minimum wage, (4) 40-hour week (there is still no U.S. limit on overtime), and (5) limitation on child labor.
In addition, the government started a program to reward businesses for improved labor relations. Businesses were permitted to display a blue eagle to signify to consumers their compliance with labor regulations, the ability of employees to organize, and the adoption of a code of conduct informed by consumers, government, and unions.
New Deal laws and their enforcement led to a decline in U.S. sweatshops and an overall improvement of labor practices. Today, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for health and safety regulation. Some industries are inspected by specialized agencies. Resources for inspections have been constrained and do not permit regular inspections of all facilities. Instead, small samples of workplaces are inspected, most often in response to worker complaints or targeting of sectors in which compliance is notoriously poor. Violators can be prosecuted criminally, fined, forced to pay back wages, or restrained by an injunction.
U.S. states and localities have their own regulations. But there are no such laws internationally and in any case laws alone are not enough.
A “culture of compliance” is essential, with wide agreement on minimum standards and employers routinely abiding by the law—whether motivated by decency, fear of enforcement, or the bottom-line benefits of good human resources management.
The existence of a culture of compliance in the United States and other developed countries significantly amplifies government enforcement.
The International Labor Organization (ILO), a specialized U.N. agency, formulates labor standards as a norm for national labor laws. The first convention, on working hours, was passed in 1919 and applies to all states that ratified it. The fundamental labor standards apply to all member states:
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
The elimination of forced and compulsory labor;
The abolition of child labor; and
The elimination of discrimination in the workplace.
Most countries have labor laws that meet ILO standards, but in developing countries such laws are rarely enforced. Sometimes lack of enforcement is deliberate, a response to demand by a global firm or a lure to bring business into a country. Although excellent as norms for national laws and for designing a global code or standard, international conventions like those of the ILO are ill-suited for direct use in a workplace.
Many companies have drafted and adopted practical codes of conduct for their overseas supply chain. Most U.S. brand-name consumer products companies—and about two-thirds of Fortune 500 firms—have developed their own codes of conduct to cover operations that include their supply chain.
But studies by the ILO and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the multitude of standards embodied in independent corporate codes of conduct led to confusion among suppliers, consumers, buyers, and retailers. A large factory that supplied numerous brands became subject to more than one audit per day to satisfy code demands—yet with little repercussion for less-than-stellar performance and high costs to the audited supplier. As of 2000, only two-thirds of the analyzed codes addressed discrimination, fewer provided for workplace safety, and only one in five addressed freedom of association or called for training programs for workers. Fewer than 20 percent required one day of rest in seven and fewer than one in three of these codes committed the company to monitor implementation.
The use of separate codes of conduct for each company has created problems:
The codes vary greatly, making it difficult for suppliers to understand what is being asked of them
Each code has its own audit requirements, creating demands for duplicative multiple audits.
Companies insisting on higher standards face a “free-rider” dilemma.
A global brand or retailer may buy products made in tens of thousands of factories, farms, and small suppliers in more than a hundred countries. The buyer must manage the supply chain to ensure delivery of products as designed, to arrive at the right port on schedule (especially for seasonal items), meet customs and product safety requirements of the importing country, be cost competitive, and, increasingly, be produced in a manner that treats workers in ways that will not offend targeted consumers.
A supply chain to a U.S. retailer has four aspects:
Quality and innovation
Workplace and environmental issues
When a retailer or brand focuses on price to the exclusion of other aspects of the supply chain, the result can be negative NGO and media attention on exploitation of workers in supplier factories or other workplaces.
Private-sector leaders wishing to build and protect their companies’ reputations encounter the “free-rider” problem. If only a few brands or retailers invest in a supply chain management system to upgrade labor conditions at their suppliers, their competitors, sharing the same suppliers, stand to reap the benefits – such as reduced reputation risk, higher productivity of workers, better quality of products) without incurring the costs. The problem is analogous to a producer that pays minimum wages but loses business to another producer who pays less than the minimum wage.
One response to this problem has been the development of industry-wide codes. Numerous single-industry labor standards have been created. For example, the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI), led by the New York-based U.S. Toy Industry Association (has developed the CARE Process for workplace improvement. The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) has developed WRAP, a standard and certification system for garment factories.
Single-industry standards represent an advance over individual company codes. But individual codes are difficult to audit against and are burdensome for suppliers, who may face many audits against different standards. Multi-stakeholder and multi-industry standards are developed by bringing representatives from diverse interests together to develop codes and implementation systems through consensus. Several highly credible workplace standards have been designed by multi-stakeholder groups.
Some members may never before have worked with members of the other sectors in anything but adversarial proceedings. Arriving at consensus among diverse stakeholders on a practical standard is difficult but important because the resulting standard is likely to be more robust and credible than if any one of the sectors developed it alone. One necessary adjunct of a standard is a management system to implement it on a routine basis, so that conditions prevailing one day can be counted to exist the next day. This requires:
Delegation of authority and responsibility
Communication of the standard
Training of managers and workers
Creation of standards and procedures
In particular, creation of a system for filing and resolving complains of non-compliance with the standards.
Social Accountability International assembled a representative SA8000 Advisory Board made up of members from business, trade unions and NGOs, sharing a common commitment to improving working conditions worldwide with a standard that would really work and would be developed quickly. SAI’s ground rules, based on the conflict-resolution principles of the Search for a Common Ground, were:
1.Everyone has an equal seat at the table
2.Listen with respect
3.Define terms carefully
4.Seek to craft a system that all sectors could buy into, is scalable (practical for companies managing any size network of suppliers) and is credible worldwide
The group engaged in a successful process of drafting, soliciting and considering interested party comments, testing at actual facilities, and arriving at consensus on a standard. It bonded and continues to work in a highly positive manner.
Once a standard is developed, non-compliances must be corrected, independent verification must be put in place and compliance publicly disclosed. Certification of a company’s compliance with multi-stakeholder standards is a transparent system of verification. It can provide a consistent and reliable way to manage a global supply chain. Standards for corporate behavior are meaningful when they have an effective implementation and verification system, and are transparent to the public. Management systems can provide for implementation of the performance elements of standards.
Amy Hall looked thoughtfully out the window as she rode the train from the Eileen Fisher headquarters in Yonkers to the showroom in Manhattan. As the Manager of Social Accountability for the stylish women’s clothing company, she had an important mission to carry out. A brand name with a reputation for simplifying women’s lives by creating attractive yet comfortable designs, Eileen Fisher in person was also the CEO and Hall’s boss. Fisher relied on Hall to answer the difficult questions about how the small company could maintain low production costs while meeting the expectations of its customers that clothing with the Eileen Fisher label was produced in a way consistent with the company’s stated mission and its founder’s ethics.
Hall contemplated the SA8000 standards that the company had adopted just five years earlier and the measures that had been implemented by Eileen Fisher and its suppliers since that time. While some progress had been achieved, more needed to be done. Some setbacks had occurred in gaining compliance with SA8000’s stringent standards in certain facilities. In addition, competing standards had made Hall’s task of monitoring supplier facilities more complicated.
Looking toward the future, Hall also wondered about how the company’s current direction would affect her abilities to oversee the programs. A growth strategy was in effect, demanding the expansion of the retail business by five stores per year. How would Hall continue to manage the program effectively and efficiently?
“It’s not about clothes, it’s about people”
In 1984, Eileen Fisher created four garments that expressed her dream for simple, comfortable and stylish clothing fitting her own lifestyle. As an interior and graphic designer, she found these traits lacking in women’s clothes. After introducing her designs at the Spring 1984 Boutique Show in New York City and exhibiting at a second showing a few months later, she received enough orders to establish her eponymous brand. The company was incorporated in 1986 and opened its first retail store in 1991.
From the start her concept was to “design simple clothes that work together and invite every woman to express her own style.” In the company’s mission statement, a unique corporate culture was outlined. Reflecting Eileen Fisher’s personal philosophy, individual growth and well-being, collaboration and teamwork, joyful atmosphere and social consciousness were the touchstones upon which employees and management were grounded.
As the company grew from a $40,000 operation in 1986 to a $130 million national retailer and wholesaler in 2002, it committed to making a positive impact on women’s lives beyond its clothing lines. It was recognized for its contributions to charitable organizations and for its civic participation. Among the awards it received were the Willis Harman Spirit at Work Award (2002), Top 500 Women Owned Businesses (Working Woman Magazine, 1999, 2000, 2001), and Vendor Excellence Award (Dayton Hudson Corporation, 1996).
By 2003, Eileen Fisher employed about 240 people, with corporate offices, showrooms, a distribution center and 28 retail outlets in 10 states. After 17 years, the company remained privately held and controlled by its founder. Fisher herself remained involved in the design of the clothing, though less so in the day-to-day business dealings.
A changing industry
In the early 1990’s the U.S. garment industry experienced a fundamental shift. Brand name clothing companies began outsourcing the majority of their garment production, entering contracts with factories outside the United States, mostly in China and other Asian nations. While the U.S. had a 16% share of the world’s clothing imports in 1980, by 2000, it imported nearly 32% of the garments produced for trade worldwide. In the same time period, China’s share of world clothing exports grew from 4% to 18%. In the late 1990’s China was the largest source of imported apparel in the U.S. market; Chinese clothing made up 24% of U.S. imports from all of Asia and 13% of U.S. imports globally.
As production moved to nations with lower labor costs, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were raising awareness about working conditions occurring in the garment industry. Revelations of the use of child labor and reports of sweatshops producing goods for major brand names from Nike to Kathy Lee Gifford hit the newsstands. Though most nations had laws regulating working conditions and prohibiting child labor, enforcement was sometimes negligible. In addition, companies were unaccustomed to being questioned by consumers and interest groups about the practices of their contractors and several were targeted by boycott campaigns.
It became clear to the industry and to individual firms that codes of conduct could help the industry move beyond the sweatshop scandals of the 1990’s. These would, at the least, sooth consumer fears, and, in the best case, change the way business was done. The impetus to develop voluntary codes was also driven by new initiatives at the international level. In 1997 the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), formed by environmental, investor, and advocacy groups, launched the Global Reporting Initiative to encourage the transparency of corporate social, environmental and financial reporting. The United Nations followed in 1999 with the establishment of the Global Compact, a voluntary corporate citizenship initiative.
Several competing standards appeared on the scene to address the main social problems of the garment industry. The Fair Labor Association, representing a coalition of manufacturers, consumer groups and labor and human rights organizations, was launched in 1997 under the auspices of the Clinton White House. WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production) was created by the American Apparel and Footwear Association and encouraged a less stringent reporting paradigm than other systems. The Worker’s Rights Consortium created a code of conduct to govern the production of clothing purchased by its member universities and colleges. Some companies created their own codes of conduct independent of other organizations.
SA8000 sets the standard
It was in this atmosphere that the SA8000 standard was developed and launched in 1997 by the Council on Economic Priorities (CEP). Patterned after quality management (ISO9000) and environmental management (ISO14000) standards, SA8000 aimed to bring the same rigor to the management of social issues in the workplace. To develop the standard, stakeholders from the labor movement, corporate representatives, and non-governmental bodies were convened by CEP.
Much like the ISO systems, SA8000 required an independent audit to certify a facility and follow-up surveillance audits to verify that the certification was still valid. Performance elements for SA8000 were derived from U.N. and ILO* conventions and declarations, with which national governments had agreed to comply. The SA8000 standard was not limited to the garment industry, but could be applied in any sector except extractive industries. It covered nine areas: child labor, forced labor, health and safety, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, discrimination, working hours, compensation, and management systems.
SA8000 provided a format by which facilities could undergo third party audits to verify and attest that they were providing a decent workplace, through compliance in all nine elements. Corrective actions recommended by auditors were part of the process to help bring facilities into compliance. Training for facility managers and workers was also a major component of SA8000 implementation.
By June 2003, certifications had been earned by more than 250 facilities in 36 countries, representing 34 industries and over 150,000 workers. Eleven companies had become signatories to the standard, which committed them to seek certification for company-owned or vendor facilities and to publicly report on progress towards that goal. By including verification and surveillance audits in the system, SA8000 squarely addressed the shortcomings of earlier corporate codes and statements of principle, which provided no confirmation that companies were taking any action.
One of the first companies to become an advisor in the development of the SA8000 standard was Eileen Fisher. Eileen Fisher became involved at the early stages for several reasons. According to Hall,
“Our corporate culture embraced recognizing employees and everyone who contributes to making our product successful. When it came up in the news about working conditions in the garment industry, it dawned on Eileen that we were forgetting somebody – the women who were the main producers of our clothing.
We thought it was important as an issue for our company, and we wanted to help create something manageable that would be seen as a globally recognized standard. We weren’t in a position to create our own standard. We had no expertise, and were too small. We joined the Advisory Board for SA8000 because we felt we could provide the perspective of a small company to make sure that SA8000 was actually manageable by a company like ours.”
Eileen Fisher and SA8000
Eileen Fisher took a lead role as one of the advising corporations involved in creating the standard and then became one of the first Signatories to agree to implement SA8000. But this was only the beginning of the process. In 1998 the Manager of Social Accountability position was created to focus the company’s efforts and ensure that the company met its goals in this area.
Within the organization, the social accountability function was located under the Vice President of People and Culture, who also oversaw the Director of Human Resources. Prior to becoming the Manager of Social Accountability, Amy Hall worked for the company in public relations and community relations for five years. In 1998 Hall was selected to direct the implementation of the recently signed SA8000 agreement. In this new role, her time was split evenly between corporate social responsibility programs, such as SA8000 implementation, and community relations, including philanthropic programs.
Requiring a social standard meant convincing contract manufacturers to take on new responsibilities and duties, with the time and costs associated. For this reason, Eileen Fisher management decided to implement SA8000 internally as well. They felt that without undergoing the process within their own facilities, it would be difficult to convince suppliers to invest in the processes necessary to comply with SA8000.
A Steep Learning Curve
Eileen Fisher, like its peers, did not manufacture its own clothing, but rather sourced the garments from factories on contract. The company consistently employed around twenty manufacturers, with about half in the U.S. and half in China. Most of the factories employed by Eileen Fisher also produced clothing for other well-known brands.
Once Hall was chosen to lead the program, she set strategic goals and crafted a budget. She selected pilot facilities for internal monitoring and auditing, attended training to become an SA8000 auditor, and networked with other companies that were embarking on similar initiatives. The learning curve was steep and she spent the first six months just in training.
The steps for certification were outlined by SA8000 and at the start, Hall felt they were achievable in several locations. In setting goals for the first year of the program, Hall projected that Eileen Fisher’s internal facilities and one New York City factory would be certified by year end. According to Hall,
“We thought it would be easy for the U.S. manufacturers, and that we would have to focus on China. Within 6 months we realized that the U.S. factories needed a lot of help. We couldn’t say that we didn’t produce in a “sweatshop.” It was a big wakeup call for the higher ups at Eileen Fisher.”
She then turned her attention toward the China facilities. She quickly learned,
“…you can’t just hand suppliers the standard. We had an immediate change of gears because our expectations were not accurate. There was a lot of handholding. We needed to be creative and persuasive, to take the necessary amount of time and to provide financial support.”
For the second year of the program, Hall targeted to have two factories take the first step towards certification, undergoing official audits to assess what compliance issues existed. This goal was not met either. By the third year her goals had become more realistic, working towards readying facilities for assessment audits and completing training.
Supply Chain Implementation
Hall used the SA8000 program to develop a systematic approach to supplier management. She gave all of her suppliers an SA8000 Statement of Commitment. Their agreement was not required to do business with the company, but Eileen Fisher reserved the right not to use their services if they would not commit. “All of our suppliers have agreed so far, but we will look at how they deal with the commitment over time to assess whether we would continue to use them,” said Hall.
Training was a huge component of the program to ready factories for certification. Hall organized and provided management training. Some training occurred internally within facilities and sometimes she sent managers to conferences to meet other suppliers. Worker training was facilitated through nonprofit organizations. Training was prioritized at Eileen Fisher’s top three facilities. The factories were chosen based on the length of their relationship with the company, their commitment to adopting SA8000, and the likelihood that they would remain suppliers. “For us, this was an investment that would pay out over time. These suppliers were primed to move into certification and so received worker and manager training all year round.” The others received less attention at this point in the certification process.
In both the U.S. and China, the main issue that arose in achieving compliance with SA8000 was the enforcement of wage and hour requirements. Clothing is a seasonal and fashion-influenced industry, so production needed to be fast-paced for brands to take advantage of trends or to hit the season at its height. Factories often received last minute orders, and workers put in overtime to fulfill the orders. Overtime pay was seen as a burden by employers, so oftentimes managers would not apply overtime rates to the hours worked. Basic wages for production were also quite low across the industry as that was the bulk of cost for the factories, and low cost was a factory’s main point of competitive advantage.
In China, there were laws governing wages and hours, however enforcement was lax. Many other labor regulations were also ignored, and that was the focus of Hall’s efforts to improve conditions in the Chinese factories. For Chinese suppliers, Hall made regular visits to the facilities, as did sourcing agents retained by Eileen Fisher and trained on SA8000 standards. “It is up to us to help the process along,” said Hall. On these visits, Hall assessed how factories were doing and set new goals for the facilities. While the sourcing agents were not hired to enforce SA8000, they played an important role. Based in Asia, they were in the factories weekly, and developed good relationships with the managers and floor supervisors. The agents facilitated the meetings with managers when Hall made visits, smoothing the path for further cooperation on improving workplace conditions.
In the United States, Hall took a separate approach because the issues were quite different. Most of the suppliers were in New York City and tended to be very small, while the Chinese facilities had huge administrative staffs. Therefore the New York suppliers were less able to keep up with the paperwork and documentation required by SA8000. The burden of paperwork was a major barrier to enticing suppliers to become engaged in the program, so Hall focused her attention on the main source of compliance issues: working hours and wages.
In the New York garment centers, many workers were paid “off the books.” Employees and employers alike enjoyed benefits from this illegal arrangement, such as avoiding income taxes. The result was that when factories did enforce wage and hour regulations, their workers would leave for other factories. For this reason, the U.S. contract facilities found SA8000 compliance a nuisance and showed little interest in participating. Because there were no certified U.S. factories, Hall had no choice but to continue working with those she had already contracted. The issues were larger than one buyer could address alone, so Hall began talking to other companies producing in the region in order to build cooperation among buyers to pressure all of the factories to comply. She believed that once a critical mass of manufacturers agreed to implement the hour and wage rules, worker flight would diminish and SA8000 standards would become more feasible.
Applying the SA8000 standards to the internal operations at Eileen Fisher was also a challenge, though the types of facilities and worker functions were different from the manufacturing operations. Eileen Fisher’s internal operations included headquarter offices which maintained a small production facility to make samples, showrooms, retail stores and one distribution warehouse with 50 to 60 employees. Hall admits,
“It took a few audits to get through the certification process. It was hard to implement the standards. We felt like we already did most of the policies required, but wanted to make it official. We had the culture and the mindset. What we needed to improve upon was the management system.”
Hall found that the systems were paper intensive and distracted from actually getting the work done. “You have to record the meetings, the thought processes, the people who attend. You record what’s contained in the training, and in the inspections.” Having a computer system and dedicated staff helped overcome these obstacles, but opened Hall’s eyes to how difficult it would be for factories without these elements to participate.
By July 2003, Eileen Fisher had the systems in place to keep the social standards going. There were posters in every facility to inform employees of the code. Hall created a social consciousness manual which supplemented the information provided in the employee manual. In addition, all new employees received regular training on the social standards. An SA8000 committee was set up in three locations to receive complaints from employees and there were also committees on safety issues. The most important aspect of maintaining Eileen Fisher’s certification and programs was keeping people informed and putting the emphasis on personal responsibility within the workforce.
Costs to Implementation
While Eileen Fisher management was fully supportive of the SA8000 implementation program, they allocated only a small budget at the start. Hall estimated the direct costs, including the cost of audits and certifications, as well as training to bring herself up to speed on SA8000 implementation. Eileen Fisher also covered most of the costs for the suppliers in order to encourage their participation in the process. After the first two years, as worker and manager training for factories became a larger part of the implementation strategy and local consultants were hired to monitor factory progress, these costs were integrated into Eileen Fisher’s budget. By the fifth year, Hall’s budget had grown sevenfold (Table 1).
Year 1......................................... $15,000
Year 2......................................... $47,000
Year 3......................................... $96,000
Year 4......................................... $84,000
Year 5....................................... $130,000
The company thought about it this way: “It’s all part of doing business, just like buying new sewing machines or other infrastructure investments. It’s all about improving productivity, employee retention, safety and the like.”
Within the factories, costs for upgrading were not significant. Few factories made any capital investments to meet the SA8000 standards because the changes required were more organizational in nature. Factories undertook small improvements such as installing eyewash stations or purchasing a sanitizer for the worker canteen.
Hall acknowledged that a larger investment in SA8000 at the start might have accelerated the rate of certifications among the factories. However by proceeding more slowly, the company was able to develop the internal support necessary to build a successful program. As Hall stated, “The company needed to experience it organically before allocating a bigger budget to the program. It had to grow on its own.”
On an industry-wide basis, the many standards issued to address social accountability in the workplace were often in competition with each other. Most garment factories produced clothing for more than one brand. With certain brand companies demanding one standard, and other brand companies requiring another standard, the factories found it difficult to comply with the conflicting directives. While companies saw value in harmonizing conflicting standards, the subtle differences that existed led to absurd situations.
“Some companies have very strict requirements on health and safety. For example, they require that fire extinguishers be placed at a certain height. Different standards have competing heights and the factories need to move the fire extinguishers back and forth depending on who is auditing them. We are all trying to work to alleviate that conflict.”
There were other overriding problems in the industry that Eileen Fisher and other garment manufacturers have tried to overcome. For Chinese workers, a change in mindset towards issues such as sexual harassment needed to take place. However, with turnover reaching 30% in the factories, changing the mentality of workers was a constant challenge. There were more subtle issues as well. In China there was a special sensitivity to how the government would react or respond to Eileen Fisher’s SA8000 initiatives. For instance, when Hall arranged training sessions, they were not on the topic of “human rights,” but on labor law, or health and safety.
Worker hours were another sticky issue for Eileen Fisher and its suppliers. Under SA8000, workers could not surpass 12 hours of voluntary overtime per week, but in many factories they were required to put in many more hours. The problem stemmed from the unpredictable nature of factory orders and factory management’s economic need to maintain operations at full capacity. Eileen Fisher might only require 10% of a factory’s capacity, leaving the factory to find other contracts to fill the remaining capacity. Eileen Fisher did not have any control over what other orders the factory took, nor what pressures these other orders put on workers to work overtime hours. Some factories specialized in certain products, for example, sweaters. If the product was seasonal and there was a lot of downtime, factories were reluctant to turn down work when it did come in. In addition, Eileen Fisher and other brands often made last minute changes or needed garments produced in a tight timeframe. This was a problem that required more coordination across the industry. According to Hall,
“It is up to the brands to figure out how to distribute the work better – not make last minute changes, allow more time for production. But things happen all the time to make that difficult. ”
From the worker perspective, there were some workers, often migrants, who sought to work as many hours as possible. They planned to be there only a few years until they could make enough money and return home. During worker interviews, there were also those who did not want to work any more hours. Employers sometimes shielded these workers from participating in audits, or they were coached to give the “correct” answers. In one instance, Hall
“…heard there was a factory overworking the employees. An NGO had gotten complaints about the factory. I asked them to investigate. They interviewed workers who all said there was no problem with overtime. However, at the end of the day, the interviewer happened to find one worker, a new employee, who had not yet been coached. This employee confirmed that workers were being forced to put in too many overtime hours. I confronted the owner who said it was not true that people were overworked.”
In general, Hall approached cases of non-compliance with an attitude of partnership, basing decisions about future orders on the level of trust and cooperation that could be developed with the supplier. “We dropped that factory because they were not committed to change. The best suppliers are factories that will be honest with you. We can still give them business as long as they work with us to figure out a solution.”
Internally, since the program was put in place, a major challenge was decentralizing her function to keep pace with growth in the company. By having the role of social accountability concentrated in one employee, there was a risk that the person would not be around to push the process forward. Hall addressed this issue by spreading the responsibilities throughout the facilities owned by Eileen Fisher. She trained several point people to act as regional surrogates that employees could contact with grievances or questions. She also contracted with trained monitors in China so that she would not always have to travel there herself.
After five years, Hall was still working with the factories to ready them for the certification process. None had yet applied for certification because of the difficult issues they face and their sense that they would not yet qualify for certification under SA8000.
“We are hoping to get them certified and have been trying for two years to formally begin the process with an assessment audit. We have set individual goals with each factory. In the next year, we hope to get three, but will get at least one manufacturer to put in the certification application and undergo an initial audit.”
Though no vendors were yet certified, since initiating the certification process in supplier factories, Hall saw significant improvement in the areas of health and safety, disciplinary practices and management systems.
“We have a lot of pieces of SA8000 in the works in the factories. One factory has an elected worker committee they created and it is functioning properly. They make a report to management on worker issues and consult with their peers. There is no tradition for this type of free election in China, so this is progress. All of the factories now have varying degrees of policies and record keeping in place that didn’t exist before.” (From Eileen Fisher 2002 Social Accountability report.)
Disciplinary practices were also evolving. Workers commonly lost pay for coming in late, making too many errors, or not following factory dress codes or dormitory rules. When asked to create incentive programs that rewarded employees for positive behavior, managers rejected the suggestion because they did not believe workers would respond. When one factory did adopt an incentive policy, managers discovered that within six months, workers had developed a better attitude and were less likely to break the rules.
However, measuring the results of such changes was not a priority, and Eileen Fisher had yet to develop specific benchmarks of progress. While Hall was aware that positive changes were taking place in the supplier factories, she had just started asking factory management to track specific data for reporting and analysis. Some of the indicators Eileen Fisher asked its suppliers to measure included retention rates and the number of sick days taken after worker training.
“We are trying now to provide the factories with a form or survey so they can measure progress. This will be submitted to them after the Chinese New Year. We want to understand retention, sick incidences, costs involved and other indicators. Right now we don’t have enough data to make any conclusions. We won’t be starting the data collection process formally until February 2004 and then it will be a few years before we have sufficient data. We want to do data collection without it seeming onerous for the factory managers.”
There have been many lessons learned for the company in the process. One is that worker education is essential to the success of the standard. Without worker involvement and understanding of the rationale for implementing a standard, the standard will not be effective. Management must also be supportive of the education of the workers, which in the long run, will be beneficial both for the factory and its customers. Anecdotal evidence indicates that educated workers make fewer mistakes, suffer fewer injuries, and have less turnover.
“We have had some good results from training the workers. Managers are actually asking when the trainers are coming back. At the beginning they were wary, and kept putting it off. After 9 months, they are asking for it. Why? Because workers are asking for it, and morale is higher.”
In addition, the company found that change takes time. Convincing factory managers to adopt different practices and management systems required persistence and creativity. At this point, for Hall the process was more about culture change and the adoption of principles rather than achieving certification. “Are the factories buying in? Do they see the value for their business and for their employees?”
Eileen Fisher also realized some unexpected benefits from certifying its own operations. Management began the process believing it was a good way of ensuring over time that the values the company espoused were deeply incorporated into the culture. They also felt that most of the requirements of the standard were already in place. However, when their internal processes and practices were reviewed, they found room for improvement, most noticeably in the area of health and safety. During the initial assessment, Hall and her auditors found safety problems in the retail stores; ladders were precariously perched, fire extinguishers were not always readily available. There was no system to assure a safe work environment company-wide. Hall created a check list for managers to fill out every week and fax to the safety coordinator to make sure that basic procedures would not fall through the cracks. She subsequently shared this check list with supplier factories in New York, who typically did not have formal procedures to handle safety issues.
Record-keeping from a managerial standpoint also improved. Procedures were established and as they were implemented, the senior management better understood the importance of their role in maintaining SA8000. They realized it was not a passive system and that they had to be engaged in the process in order for it to function properly.
After having gone through the SA8000 certification process internally, the main focus looking ahead was on the factory suppliers. Eileen Fisher had been relatively successful at selecting factories from the outset and now that was paying off. Hall stated,
“We rarely see a factory list with so much green in an auditor meeting (showing lack of infractions). Our supplier factories are humane and interested in improving. Being involved in this effort has shown us the benefit of adjusting business practices– drawing out deadlines, making sure pieces are arriving on time – it made us conscious of it. But there will always be something to work on.”
How does Eileen Fisher’s brand positioning relative to workplace and environmental issues compare with, say, that of American Apparel?
What are implications of the Eileen Fisher case for the company’s future supply chain management? What competitive advantages does this implementation of SA8000 confer on the brand, if any? Is it sustainable?
If you were a manager at Eileen Fisher, how would you approach the workplace issues raised by NGO’s in the 1990’s? How would you address the issues of wages and hours? What market reaction to these decisions would you expect? Can these changes create value for the company’s brand? How? How can the company market its products based on its investment in CSR?
As the company expands, do you think consumers and advocacy groups will begin to take notice of the company? How might they react to the CSR initiatives? How have competitors in the industry responded?How do you think others in the industry will respond to this over time? How will other industries respond?
What indicators would you use to track the social impact of supply chain management?
How does the company recognize progress on CSR?How is CSR performance embedded in performance goals/objectives & reviews and in the compensation of managers?
The application of workplace standards in China workers must address one fundamental problem. It looms large in the workplace-certification arena because so many factories are located in China and so many U.S. brands buy from them. The problem is that workers in China may only belong to government-controlled unions, of which the largest is the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. This law conflicts with the first of the previously cited ILO conventions, the right to “freedom of association.” In this situation, how is the standard of freedom of association or “the right to organize” to be interpreted? What should a responsible corporation do when ILO conventions and national laws conflict? How should certification and accreditation agencies (and groups setting standards) tackle the problem?
There are interesting developments in the four-cornered evolution of the freedom of association issue in China:
In one corner are the global labor unions, which are unwilling to accept a government-appointed union leadership as providing the same protection to workers as a freely elected union. The international unions believe that freedom of association must be part of any attempt to improve conditions of workers in China.
In another corner is the sovereign Chinese Government, which officially has not changed its position that workers are permitted to organize only under the aegis of government-controlled unions. However, regional Chinese governments such as Guangdong Province are inserting themselves into the arena and are finding labor unions useful allies in dealing with multinationals.
The position of multinational corporations depends on their corporate philosophies: (1) Companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s that pursue a lowest-cost strategy have resisted union organizing in the United States because they believe it will raise costs and reduce their competitiveness. But Wal-Mart and McDonald’s are cooperating fully with the official Chinese unions in organizing their retail outlets because they have no choice. (2) Multinationals that are seeking assurance that their Chinese suppliers do not use sweatshop or child labor are seeking certification from suppliers of compliance with labor standards. The impact of this has been so widespread that a story circulated in the Chinese press that the U.S. Government would refuse to allow exports from China that were not from certified factories.
Seeking to intermediate in this confusing environment are the setters and enforcers of labor standards like SA8000. Global labor unions as a rule refuse to associate themselves with industry standards that do not include freedom of association. But how is this standard to be applied in a country where the unions are controlled by government?
One compromise approach that is being tried with some success is the use of“parallel means,” i.e., election of worker committees that are unique to each factory. Workers are considered to benefit from freedom of association through freely and fairly elected worker committees, which create the infrastructure for a future time when freedom of association may go to a higher level. For some workers this is their closest exposure to anything resembling the democratic process. The results of this exposure can be interesting. Case 4.2 is an example.
In Kaiping, China, a factory that supplies boots to Timberland and other buyers, in 2005 put to use its worker-committee structure created in response to U.S. vendor interest in a “parallel means” to freedom of association. The worker committee decided to raise money for the victims of the tsunami – an extraordinary development in China, where initiative by workers, least of all contributions to charity, is not part of the country’s ancient and glorious tradition.
The Big Hearts of Kaiping
by John Tepper Marlin
NEW YORK, Apr 12, 2005 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- A group of factory workers in Kaiping, China, donated Rmb 1,400 -- about $170 -- to the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. This is a tiny amount when set against the millions of dollars of aid that governments, large corporations and individuals have given to help the tsunami survivors. The large gifts have been duly publicized and are commendable. But I am more impressed with the smaller contribution of the factory workers.
Kaiping isn't a big place, especially by Chinese standards, but it gives me hope for the future. With just half a million residents, Kaiping takes about two hours to get to, southwest from Guangzhou -- or so I am told, because I haven't been there yet. Kaiping is the origin of a half-million Chinese emigres. It is also famous for its local Bank of China branch, where the manager succeeded in embezzling more than $500 million. Compared with that, $170 is tiny.But the difference is that the $170 was earned honestly by hard work and that the workers organized themselves to take this money out of their own pockets and send it on to hard-hit strangers. The amount represents an average of about 42 cents per worker at the factory (most workers contributed) or about two percent of their week's wages.
The factory manager, Mr. Zhang, took two of the workers to the local civil affairs bureau so they could bring the money in person. The bureau staff told them they were the first group of workers to have brought in a donation, and added that they were probably the first workers' group in China to do this (an internet search turned up no other examples). Many Chinese individuals donated more than $12 million to the tsunami survivors. The unusual thing is that at the Kaiping factory the workers donated as a group.
Consider that Chinese factory workers are typically migrants who travel thousands of miles to their jobs, returning home only for the New Year. They are separated from their families and work long hours to make as much money as possible to send home. As migrants they are not entitled in the factory location to government services that they would get in their hometown. Their wages have grown very little, though China's economy has been growing by 8 percent or 9 percent and the Guangdong Province economy (of which Kaiping is part) has been growing by close to twice that. The workers' small donation is significant because it indicates that they have interests beyond survival and sending money home. Having heard about a tragedy in another place from fellow workers or from television or at an Internet cafe, they are willing to dig into their pockets to share what little they have.
What accounts for this worker altruism? I asked Martin Ma, who has visited the factory on behalf of Social Accountability International, a nonprofit group that has been helping to train workers and managers regarding implementation of the SA 8000 workplace standard. Ma thinks a key factor in the Kaiping workplace is Mr. Zhang himself, because he tirelessly seeks to improve working conditions -- with the goal of attracting good workers and reducing absenteeism. The Kaiping factory gets Timberland's top marks for workplace conditions among factories that make its products.
Timberland's CEO, Jeffrey B. Swartz, grandson of the company's founder, has publicly embraced corporate responsibility goals, with the corporate mission of "doing well and doing good." The company has been a generous corporate giver, matching employee gifts to charities, and since the tsunami has devoted a significant portion of its web site home page (timberland.com) to advertising appeals for tsunami assistance.
The Economist magazine doesn't agree with the idea of mixing business and altruism. Its Jan. 20, 2005 issue took a curmudgeonly view of gifts by multinational corporations to the tsunami survivors out of profits that it argues should be passed on to their shareholders. But when management inspires workers to give away their own money to help survivors of a catastrophe, as was the case in Kaiping, it's hard to see how even a pre-enlightenment Ebenezer Scrooge could find fault.
The Kaiping workers' donation was small but carries a big message. Better workplace conditions in factories have been associated with higher worker productivity, higher-quality products and lower staff turnover. They also allow workers to begin to think of problems that go beyond their immediate survival. This is of importance to the rest of the world. As China grows economically, it also grows politically. The Kaiping story gives me reason to hope that out of enlightened leadership in China's factories today may flow future leaders to help face the intransigent economic and political problems facing the world of today and tomorrow. ■
Gap Inc. has also been a leader in promoting the (RED) campaign,which it supported along with Motorola and Sprint, to generate money to fights AIDS in Africa. Ad Age argued that it was unsuccessful and a bad idea. Really? The RED campaign.
Gap Inc. was “bitten” by protesters against sweatshop conditions in supplier factories. The theme was “I would rather wear nothing than Gap clothing.” The protesters paraded around Gap Inc. headquarters in San Francisco. The company has done a great deal to rehabilitate its reputation. The following is from its web site:
To us, being socially responsible means striving to incorporate our values and ethics into everything we do − from how we run our business, to how we treat our employees, to how we impact the communities where we live and work.
Through our comprehensive factory-monitoring and labor-standards program, we strive to make garment factories better places to work. More
Caring for the Environment
Running our company in an environmentally friendly way is good for the environment and good for our business. We're working to conserve energy and reduce waste, and are exploring the use of sustainable materials and products. More
Investing in Communities
With a particular focus on underserved youth, we're committed to supporting the communities where we live and work through grants, in-kind donations, community outreach and employee volunteer programs. More
Supporting Our Employees
We're dedicated to creating a workplace in which the rights, needs and unique contributions of every employee are consistently respected. More
Student assignment, NYU, 2006: On the SustainAbility list of the top corporate Corporate Social Responsibility reports, the only U.S. apparel-related company was Gap Inc. (Adidas, which was also on the list, is not U.S.-based.) You are an AVP/Communications at VF (Lee, Wrangler, Kipling, North Face,Nautica). Mackey McDonald, Chairman, President and CEO, recently received from a UNC Greensboro professor a copy of the Gap Inc. CSR report and a recommendation that VF emulate it. McDonald asks you for a 250-word memo explaining to him (1) why someone might think the Gap Inc. report is better than VF's posted reports and (2) whether or not you think VF should emulate the Gap Inc. CSR report. The VF counterparts to the Gap Inc. CSR report are located on the company web site under Corporate Governance.
Here are comments from a dozen of the students. Full names are given for the first two students, who gave permission for their responses to be put on the public NYU web site.
The Gap Inc. CSR report and VF's Global Compliance reports are markedly different. On the surface, the Gap Inc. report is aesthetically pleasing and sophisticated in presentation, effectively utilizing design, graphs, charts, and sidebars making it easily digestible for a number of different kinds of audiences. As well, Gap's use of the term social responsibility is a signal that the company strives to operate beyond the minimum laws and compliance standards. More importantly though, the depth of the company's commitment to social responsibility and to their stated goal of creating lasting change in the garment industry is evident in this report of their initiatives, partnerships, integration of standards and compliance in many aspects of their business. The Gap Inc. report includes the company's internal goals and measurement outcomes, allowing stakeholders to understand on a basic level the company's goals, how they measure them, and the outcomes they are working toward. In contrast, the VF Global Compliance report, while comprehensive in explaining the auditing process and scope, is lacking in information about the company's results and goals related to their own Global Compliance Principles.
Even though Gap Inc. and VF are different businesses, as they are both in the same industry, I would recommend that VF should make some improvements to their report using Gap Inc.'s for best practices in communicating to stakeholders VF's commitment to compliance and their principles. While VF's report mentioned that they engage third-party auditors and work within established standards (WRAP), the report's focus on the technical aspects of the compliance process with no summary of results made it hard to read and could result in stakeholders (including their own employees) in a limited understanding of their performance and goals.
Re: Comparison of our CSR report to Gap's CSR report
As requested, I have examined Gap's CSR report and compared it to our own. Here is my honest assessment.
First, the tenor of each report was quite different. Gap presented its statement in a prosaic fashion that suggested a heartfelt conversation with Paul Pressler. For example, it discussed Paul's visit to a factory in India, and it highlighted Gap's contribution to communities devastated by the tsunami. The language and supporting photographs made me feel as though Paul was proud of these acts. In addition, Gap's report was action-oriented, with phrases such as "energizes people" and "encourages success." By contrast, our bureaucratic, staid report was replete with technical, legal-oriented jargon such as "Global Compliance Principles", "Fair Labor Code of Workplace Conduct", and "WRAP-certified standards". It did not convey any sense of personal involvement. Sadly, I did not enjoy reading it.
Further, I believe the images in the Gap report trumped our own. Whereas our report featured a disjointed series of dry pie charts, obtuse maps, and stock photographs, the Gap report presented a related stream of up-close-and-personal photographs of employees at work and volunteers in their communities. Did we purchase our photos from an image supplier such as Corbis (www.corbis.com)?
To answer your second question, I firmly believe our report should emulate Gap's. In our next release, we should demonstrate, on a very personal level, how VF helps its workers and is active in its communities. We must include photos of intimate interaction! In addition, we should reduce the legalese concerning compliance, and embrace colloquial phrases that speak to our commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility.
I have more feedback for you, but cannot present it in a simple memo. Please let me know when we can get together to discuss our report in more detail.
There is a stark contrast between the 2004 Gap Inc. Social Responsibility Report and VF Corp's 2005 Global Compliance Report. Even the respective names of the reports provide some clues to the reader. Gap is trying to display its responsibility, while VF is concerned with its level of compliance. Both reports mention specific rights of their workers, but Gap seems to focus more on its responsibility to uphold these rights. Gap also expands its efforts beyond working conditions to include diversity, education, and environmental impact. Both companies work with NGO's to improve their CSR efforts, but Gap provides more transparency in their findings. Looking closely at VF's policies reveals that it often relies on local laws as a guide. This is discouraging because laws in many developing nations do not measure up to those of developed nations, and their enforcement is suspect at best.
This does not mean that Gap is good and VF is bad. It is important to realize that these are two very different companies. Gap is a much larger company, and it is a retailer with three major brands. It has become common knowledge that Banana Republic and Old Navy are part of the Gap. This is a company that interacts directly with consumers constantly. On the other hand, VF is an apparel manufacturer that does not deal directly with the public, at least not on the same scale as Gap. It has a stable of many diverse brands which consumers do not associate with each other or with the VF name. CSR can be rationalized as a source of production efficiency at both companies, but its marketing value is much more apparent at the Gap.
The Gap CSR Report is certainly more developed than the VF CSR Report. Gap was a bitten brand and thus to change the shareholders view of its practices, launched a comprehensive social responsibility initiative.
On the Gap Inc. CSR Report, you will find Gap's involvement in community services such as Swabhiman in New Delhi, and the ILO in Cambodia. These acts convince shareholders of Gap's resolve toward social responsibility. Furthermore, Gap shows their development from previous years. Gap describes their ongoing efforts to decrease energy consumption. There is also a large description of Gap's involvement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Gap also shows that they have management teams to make sure the programs and codes will be employed. The report gives an image to Gap. VF lacks all of these components. Perhaps most importantly, there is no mention of outside auditing by a third party to VF in contrast to Gap.
My advice is to try to incorporate these components into VF's report as well. The reputation of a company is an intangible asset. It cannot be easily quantified, but at times, may be the most valuable component of a company. The audience VF tries to appeal to is young and thus extremely aware and concerned with brands. Social responsibility is today a major factor that can make or erode a brand and it is imperative to convey a message of social responsibility that will be believed by the key stakeholders of the company. To quote the CEO of Echo Research, "CSR's time has come, and it's not just a management fad."
The Gap Inc. 2004 Social Responsibility Report goes a long way to help the reader understand that certain core values and actions consistent with those values are the principles by which the company operates. It emphasizes virtues of integrity, trust, open-mindedness, inclusiveness and continuous learning and it has mandatory ethics courses and training programs to educate employees as to how those values translate into their daily activities. As a result it has a report that includes an honest discussion of the challenges and complexities a company faces when it wants to pursue "ethical sourcing." The report discusses the company's monitoring program (it has invited SAI and Verite to evaluate its program) and how the program can help to identify problems. It is a company that understands that it has to commit to measure the things that it wants to manage. But it is quick to point out that these measurements are more art than science and therefore there can be many reasons for specific results. While it does say that a manufacturer is ultimately responsible for the conditions in its factory, it wants to highlight ethical practices and bring those elements to its buying decisions. What is clear is that the Company has a cultural framework anchored in core values, and it attempts to integrate that framework into labor standards applicable to the supply chain. Monitoring is not enough, as the Company correctly points out. In order to provide meaningful change across this fragmented industry, which includes operations in economically underdeveloped countries where law enforcement is lacking, undermining the efforts to protect workers, it is necessary to work collaboratively with government, civil society, and the commercial sector. This is part of the Gap's focus.
This report contrasts sharply with the report from VF. From VF's Values Statement on to its other company documents, it does not demonstrate a company that has an operating philosophy resonating values that it seeks to institutionalize throughout its operations. While it does seek to comply with applicable standards, the tone of its documents is legalistic and minimalist from the point of view of impacting the industry. VF's "values," while mentioning honesty, integrity and respect, are substantially focused on the consumer and marketing. It has a different culture, which would make it unable to emulate the Gap report. A company should not put out a document that is not true and consistent with its operating philosophy. Perhaps, after seeing the Gap report, it may be encouraged to alter its approach and then it may consider issuing a report with a very different message.
In reviewing the two sets of reports from VF and Gap, it is clear that VF's set of principles has a stronger focus on anti-corruption and fair labor practices, whereas Gap's CSR report is much broader and includes environmental initiatives (e.g., average store energy consumption - p. 49) and community engagement activities (# of activities and total charitable donations - p. 47), in addition to a review of fair labor practices. The Gap CSR 2004 report provides clearly stated goals and indicates a measurement of progress for reach objective, giving the reader a better impression of the company's intent and future direction. Gap explicitly illustrates how its business impacts the environment, using a somewhat simplified Life Cycle Analysis approach (p. 49), along with a breakdown of what contributes to poor labor working conditions (p. 9), and a summary of Health & Safety statistics (p. 51). Gap also tailors its initiatives by region of the world and identifies major areas of concerns in those regions (p. 6 - 7).
Gap's CSR report is exemplary and goes beyond VF's chosen route of compliance with FLA and WRAP standards (Note: according to the 2005 FLA annual report, VF "meet[s] or exceed[s] all standards set by the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct." - see additional sources below). For VF to achieve Gap's level of transparency and reporting standards would require a more in depth approach to its audit and reporting processes. It might be difficult for VF to replicate what Gap has accomplished without the appropriate management systems in place. Since Gap sets a high standard, I am hard pressed not to advise VF to emulate the Gap's CSR Report, but I realize that getting to that level of disclosure takes time and capital investment in IT infrastructure.
As David McLaughlin shared with us, it took close to 15 years for Chiquita to achieve its reporting standards today. Therefore, I would recommend that VF incorporate a section in its Global Citizenship Report (GSR) report that discusses its long-term objectives and that it aim to grow its reporting capabilities over time. VF's current focus on labor practices and certification under WRAP and FLA are a sufficient start, but the report relies on too much detail about the process versus the activities - i.e., what is VF doing to address its problems sufficiently? The one audit progress report, however, that VF chose to disclose ("Audit Defects by Region" on p. 23) denotes how much room for improvement still exists in this area alone.
VF Corporation profile in 2004 FLA annual report: http://www.fairlabor.org/2004report//companies/catb/companyProfile_vf.html
Description of VF Corporation compliance (summary) in 2004 FLA annual report: http://www.fairlabor.org/2004report//companies/catb/complianceProgram_vf.html
The Gap Inc.'s Social Responsibility Report is clearly more advanced than VF's Global Compliance Report. VF's report is focused only on improving the working conditions of its employees. It is achieving this goal by requiring all factories (whether VF owned or third-party owned) to adhere to its fifteen Global Compliance Principles. The problem with these principles is that they are solely aimed to improving the working conditions of VF employees. These Principles do not expand to the community and the apparel industry. The Gap on the other hand realizes that improving working conditions goes beyond the factory doors. The Gap's goal is that eventually the entire apparel industry will have adopted its standards. It is not solely focused on improving its internal environment. It has a commitment to the entire industry and communities where the apparel industry has a presence. The Gap is working with the governments of other countries to change public policies that effect how employees are treated. The Gap is heavily involved in improving the communities where its factories are located through promoting volunteering and donating to community organizations. In addition it is committed to environmental goals such as reducing their greenhouse emissions and water pollution. The Gap is able to achieve this high level of social responsibility through various partnerships, government involvement and understanding the root causes of some of the poor working conditions. Compared to VF, the Gap shows a much stronger commitment to the social responsibility issues in the apparel industry.
The Gap also realizes that in order to be recognized as a socially responsible company it is important to have external assessments. The Gap has done this through independent evaluations, such as the one with SAI, of its various social responsibility programs. While VF has third party audits, its report does not provide the detail of these third party audits the way the Gap report does. I also noticed that while VF works with NGOs, it primarily does this for its owned and operated factories. For example, only its owned and operated factories are required to comply with the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production.
VF should emulate the Gap Inc.'s Social Responsibility Report. The primary improvements that VF should make are expanding its goals beyond its factories, forming more partnerships with NGOs and local governments, and expanding its goals beyond employee conditions to the community and environment.
VF's GCR report demonstrates accurately that it is an older brand and company than GAP. The report is very impersonal and lack-luster, focusing on the traditional CSR information such as listing of its Global Compliance Principles and its audit procedures. Its not a very "young/modern" report whereas GAP's SCR report is.
Here are a couple of striking reasons why I felt GAP's report was better:
1. The opening picture of the GAP SCR report features a smiling worker. The workers seem organized and focused. The picture gives positive vibes about the organization - one where the workers are happy about the firm they are working for. Contrast this with the opening picture of VF's GCR report. It does not exude the same vibe. VF should pick a better, more personal opening picture. GAP's report gives a description of the picture in the next page, thus giving a context to this picture. VF does not do so. The reader does not know what this picture depicts.
2. VF's report is very drab and one-dimensional. GAP's report uses aesthetically pleasing colors and breaks up the various sections appropriately, making it easier and more effective to read.
3. GAP's report contains a statement from the Public Reporting Working Group where they "commend GAP for recognizing that brands and retailers contribute to poor working conditions through unreasonable expectations regarding speed of delivery and cost, inefficient purchasing practices, and inconsistent labor standards and means of enforcement." Such third-party statements are extremely powerful, especially in CSR reports. VF has no such endorsements.
4. VF's report focuses more on the audit standards and process. While this is a good area to cover in a CSR report, VF has over-emphasized on this without covering any information on projects they have undertaken, like GAP's report covers. GAP's report has a good balance, covering community involvement [listing projects in every supplier region like Swabhimaan in India], health issues and its employees.
VF should improve its GCR report by emulating parts of GAP's SCR report. However, it should not get rid of some of its positive sections, such as audit process. By applying better formatting, breakdown of sections and adding a few more sections addressing its significant achievements in the CSR area, VF's report can be at par with GAP's, and appear more readable and attractive to its readers.
Comparing Gap Inc.'s and VF Corporation's reports, it is clear that Gap Inc. has taken a more comprehensive and more credible approach to improving responsible business practices. Despite the bad media attention Gap Inc. is receiving over labor practices, their image as a socially responsible firm is reinforced by the transparency in their self reporting.
Given that clothing industries are now more vulnerable than ever to scrutiny around fair labor practices, it's surprising that VF's Corporate Governance report gives relatively little attention to concerns over enforcing health and safety codes in their factories. To build trust, it's important to assure your customers and the public that you are taking steps beyond simply complying with labor standards. Gap, however, gives fairly thorough reporting on their partnerships with several consultants and NGOs to find creative ways to improve working conditions while improving productivity. Other ways that VF could emulate the Gap Inc.'s report to improve transparency and credibility are:
-Explain which outside experts (NGOs, evaluators) have verified VF's health & safety standards. If VF hasn't consulted any outside expertise, explain why.
-Explain how VF engages stakeholders in their social responsibility efforts (who is involved in the decision making processes?).
-Briefly discuss in more detail how VF "conserves energy, protects the environment, displays good citizenship" (VF Code of Conduct, page 8).
VF Corporate Governance report does proclaim a commitment to responsible business practices which is good, but it should strive to resonate more with the larger communities in which they operate.
Per your request, I have reviewed Gap's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report and our Global Compliance Report (GCR).
It is my recommendation that we not only emulate but that we set targets to exceed Gap's CSR report and do our best to make SustainAbility's list of top corporate CSR reports. However, it is Gap's public pledge to take "a leadership role in improving conditions in the world's garment factories" that we should examine. Gap's report is just a verification of its commitment.
I believe the report accomplishes the following:
1. With the president and CEO's message, it conveys that social responsibility is important and it is an integrate part of Gap's business strategy. In contrary, your message in our report conveys that we are in "compliance," which means that we are doing what we are suppose to do and nothing more.
2. It outlines with great detail Gap's socially conscious initiatives around the world; and,
3. It acknowledges that socially there is more to be done and that Gap is willing to collaborate with other stakeholders in doing better.
The one critique that I have with regards to the Gap report is that it opens with a quote from a worker in India and that her life has improved because of her work for Gap. This seems a little self serving and patronizing. The narrative about the program would have been sufficient, I would caution us to be careful not to overstate our impact.
1- Gap's CSR reflects a feeling of sincere commitment to creating lasting change not only in the company but within the whole garment industry. They offer sustainable solutions to identify problems, integrate compliance into business practices, collaborate with external partners and engage different stakeholders.
2- The report provides a detailed account of factors contributing to the poor working conditions within the industry. The account shows their willingness to investigate the root causes of the problem rather than proposing quick-fix solutions.
3- The report presents the specified goals, the progress that has been taken and self-assessment of the progress for each area of focus for 2004, as well as providing the new goals and the relevant action plans for 2005-6.
Corporate philanthropy to an average person may mean “how businesses support the communities in which they operate?” To a company, its philanthropy may also be an opportunity to build camaraderie amongst employees or a public relations Band-Aid. To local charities, it may be a much-needed source of support.
Corporate philanthropy will continue to undergo changes that increase transparency. The main aspects of it are donations, employee volunteer programs, cause-related marketing and strategic development.
In the past it was enough for a company to offer support to the communities in which it operated by sponsoring a town event or donating money to charity. Often unrelated to the core business, public companies faced the critique that shareholders were being shortchanged, while public relations departments advocated such behavior as an opportunity to build community support and brand recognition.
While charitable giving is still common in the United States, it is less common for a company operating in developing nations. Giving tends to be concentrated in the headquarters country and community. Companies in developing countries that face challenges to basic operations such as corruption, lack of government services (such as education or clean water), and intense poverty may use charitable community development programs to improve the supply of food, shelter, and education, and thereby support development of a supply of labor capable of meeting the increasingly demanding employment needs of the company.
Employee Volunteer Programs
Another philanthropic practice many US companies use to build community recognition and support is employee volunteer programs, such as: participating in one-day service events, fundraising walks, or regular volunteering. Companies that participate encourage participation, arrange activities, excuse work absences, and in some cases even pay for the time spent volunteering. In addition to benefits incurred by the community, these programs build a sense of community within the company and employee loyalty.
Cause-related marketing campaigns are a way that companies answer the concern that charitable activity doesn’t help the financial bottom line. Cause-related marketing can tie donations for a specific cause to a specific product or business function. The concept is that consumers who support the given cause are more likely to purchase the offered good or service than if the promotion did not take place. Sometimes, a portion of the revenue profits associated with the sale of the specific good or service are donated to the specified cause. Newman’s Own pledges to donate all profits to charitable causes. Ben & Jerry’s earmarked “1% for peace” of its Peace Pops. Questions to ask about cause-related advertising include: What portion of profits is appropriate? Should this portion be disclosed to the customer? How can the customer be assured that the donation is made?
The newest trend in corporate philanthropy is to build it into corporate strategy, advancing activities that can support core business while meeting community needs. In practice, this type of corporate philanthropy is perhaps the hardest to define, as it varies both by the business and the community it serves. Ranging from providing new products to meet niche populations to providing worker training for the purpose of increasing diversity of labor supply or to fill a labor shortage, these programs tie activities to real business objectives rather than public relations activities. Strategies could include investing in inner cities, or creating housing for the poor or elderly.
At the 2002 World Economic Forum in New York City, CEOs presented a management Framework for Action that executive management teams can use to place corporate philanthropy at the core of business strategy. The group encouraged their peers to lead their companies to implement principles and practices for managing the company’s impacts on society and its relationships with stakeholders. Signatory CEOs commit to make every effort “to enhance the positive multipliers of their activities and to minimize any negative impacts on people and the environment, everywhere they invest and operate, recognizing that the frameworks adopted for being a responsible business must move beyond philanthropy and be integrated into core business strategy and practice.”
The Economist argued in January 2005 that corporations should not be reducing profits and shareholder dividends by making contributions to victims of the Southeast Asian tsunami. Companies in certain cities have jointly pledged to give 5 percent or more of their pre-tax earnings to charities. What’s the right amount of corporate philanthropy? Cite dollar amounts or other statistics in making your case.
 It was 60 percent in 2003 but has increased since then. National Research Council, Roger McElrath, ed., “Monitoring International Labor Standards: Summary of Domestic Forums,” NRC, 2003, 38.
ILO MCC Working Paper, Michael Urminsky, Editor, “Self Regulation in the Workplace: Codes of Conduct, Social Labeling, and Socially Responsible Investment,” ILO, 2000.
 The case was prepared for the CSR elective course by Jennifer Lewin, former NYU Stern MBA student, in Summer 2003 with support from the NYU Stern Markets, Ethics and Law program.
* The International Labour Organization (ILO), a U.N. body, addressed labor issues at the international level.
 The inherent conflict between a state-run union and freedom of association has also been an issue in two other countries: Vietnam and Myanmar. But some progress on this issue has been made in Vietnam and more serious human-rights issues in Myanmar tend to push the question of freedom of association to the background.
 This question is raised explicitly by Gap Inc. in its 2004 Social Responsibility report.
 David Barboza, “McDonald’s in China Agrees to Unions: A Willingness to Alow for Organizing at Some Restaurants,” The New York Times, April 10, 2007, C3.