OIA's Fair Labor Working Group launches Fair Labor Toolkit

Recognizing that there should be a fair, safe and healthy work environment for those employed in the manufacture of outdoor industry products, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) worked with a number of its members to establish the Fair Labor Working Group.
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Recognizing that there should be a fair, safe and healthy work environment for those employed in the manufacture of outdoor industry products, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) worked with a number of its members to establish the Fair Labor Working Group.

The stated purpose of the Fair Labor Working Group is to “create a system for ensuring our products are manufactured by factories that achieve legal and ethical treatment of workers.”

Currently, the working group's membership includes: Troy Jones, REI; Carl Boni, Kelty; Ryan Gellert, Black Diamond; Paul Svrcek, Cascade Designs; Carol Petroski, MEC; Wally Bell, REI; Kim Coupounas, GoLite; Lisa Kantor, Business for Social Responsibility; and Rob Mitchell, SmartWool.

“Cascade got involved in the Fair Labor Working Group because we have a strong commitment to being socially responsible in our own factories and in the factories we contract to make our product,” said Svrcek, Cascades Purchasing and International Sourcing Manager. “We've been auditing our factories for two years, and we've been dealing with the issues that come up in those audits. The OIA Toolkit is supporting our internal decision to make fair labor practices auditing a formal part of our policies and procedures.”

This working group did not form overnight. Two years ago, a group of OIA member companies met to discuss corporate social responsibility. They quickly realized that the topic was too broad because corporate social responsibility, or CSR, means too many things to too many people — economic justice, social justice, environmental protection, etc.

With that realization, the group determined to focus its efforts where it perceived the greatest risk to the industry and the greatest potential benefit to brands. With help from the non-profit Business for Social Responsibility, the working group spent the past two years developing the Fair Labor Tool Kit.

The tool kit, suitable for organizations of all sizes, contains a code of conduct that is based on International Labor Organization conventions. The code contains guidance in the following areas: compliance with laws and workplace regulations, prohibition of forced labor, prohibition of child labor, prohibition of harassment or abuse, compensation and benefits, hours of work, prohibition of discrimination, health and safety, freedom of association, and the environment.

In addition to the code of conduct, the tool kit contains a host of monitoring strategies designed to enable companies to monitor conditions in their supply chain and bring suppliers into compliance. Depending on risk factors and availability of resources, a company can request a self-audit to be completed by a supplier representative, conduct an internal staff audit via sourcing or QA staff, or order an independent audit from a third party auditing firm.

Regardless of the method chosen for evaluating suppliers, the focus is always on helping the supplier comply; therefore, the tool kit contains resources for devising and implementing corrective action plans.

Early in the process, the working group realized that small, rapidly growing companies drive much of the innovation in the outdoor industry and are also in greatest need of assistance in monitoring conditions in their changing supply chains. Many are outgrowing their in-house or domestic operations and need help globalizing while maintaining their values.

Currently, the tool kit is being tested by several small- to mid-sized brands within the outdoor industry. The working group will incorporate feedback from this testing and present the tool kit at the OIA Rendezvous, Oct. 7-9 in Beaver Creek, Colo. The Rendezvous session will provide attendees a chance to learn more about the subject of labor compliance, hear from the companies who have been testing the Fair Labor Toolkit, and find out first-hand how to get involved in this effort.

Cascade has been using components of the Fair labor Toolkit for a couple of years. Svrcek stressed that the Toolkit has not made Cascade switch factories, but has given it the opportunity to work with their factories to help the company improve.

“At Cascade we enter into long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships with factories. We start looking at each others' dirty laundry, and we work together to clean it up,” said Svrcek.

“Not all the problems lie within the factories," he added. "In some areas we've discovered that we are part of the problem. It is going to require more planning and patience on our side, and as an industry we are going to have to learn to treat our manufacturers more consistently.”

The official launch of the Toolkit will be at the 2006 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.

Right now, the working group has asked companies to visit the OIA website, and comment on the draft toolkit. They are also asking companies to complete a short survey that will help the working group continue to develop and target the toolkit to industry needs.

Resources:
To view a draft of the Toolkit, visit: www.outdoorindustry.org/ben.work.html
To take the survey, go to: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=632451177965.
To learn more about fair labor and the work of BSR, visit: www.bsr.org.

SNEWS® View: There is a saying that goes like this: If you make it just as easy to do the right thing as it is to do the wrong thing, people will do the right thing. What the OIA Fair Labor Working Group is doing is making legal and ethical treatment of workers easier to achieve. We wholeheartedly support the OIA Fair Labor Working Group and congratulate the industry on taking such a proactive step forward. Warts and dirty laundry are likely to be revealed in the process, but through the process, discovered warts can be removed, and dirty laundry cleaned. We will all benefit. But we also need to remember that this is not an overnight fix or process.

In its Fiscal Year 2004 Annual Report, Philip Knight, Nike founder and Chairman writes of Corporate Social Responsibility:

“[For Nike,] in the first chapter, we upgraded processes and conditions behind closed doors. However inadequate our critics may have found these efforts, they did result in factories that were far better than what we found originally…

The second chapter began with critics bringing working conditions in underdeveloped countries to the attention of the world. After a bumpy original response, …we focused on making working conditions better and showing that to the world.These codes led to a third long chapter on the development of corporate and independent monitoring programs. The fourth chapter charts the beginning of collaborative efforts to address compliance issues. Creating change has proved more challenging than anyone imagined when corporate codes were first developed.

This report taught us that to write that next chapter, we and others involved in this discussion are going to need to see common standards emerge and ways to better share knowledge and learnings created. To this end, Nike disclosed their supply chain and a list of factories worldwide where Nike products are produced."

Say what you will about Nike, and the company has perhaps taken more than its fair share of lumps, but as a result of being under the public microscope and taking the steps to correct ethical and work issues in the supply-chain, Nike did jump-start disclosure and collaboration throughout the industry.

What can you do?
• Complete the Code of Conduct and Factory Compliance survey that is accessible from the OIA web site.
• Review and comment on the draft Code of Conduct and Tool Kit, which are posted to the Member section of the OIA Website.
• Attend the OIA Rendezvous in October to learn more about the case for taking an active role in labor compliance in your supply chain.

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