Throughout history, global commodity chains have been a critical component in fulfilling high consumer demands; these “chains,” either material or representational, has led to increasing concerns on labor rights. A global commodity chain is a series of links that connects the production of raw material to the distributors that eventually are marketed and sold to consumers. This extensive process is a crucial part to the growth of globalization that has allowed for a rapid increase in labor forces in developing countries.
However, networks within the chains have been linded by the high consumer demand and almost disregarded labor standards in order to meet quota at the cheapest cost. As a result, millions of workers struggle to survive through poor working conditions entailing long hours, child labor and little to no pay. An example of this can be seen through the publicly traded American company, Urban Outfitters, Inc, that has recently been a target for debate concerning their association with factories overseas that do not exhibit good labor standards.
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It has further raised the question as to what policies and consumer choices companies such as Urban Outfitter Inc. an partake in to improve the issue. As the consumer demand began to increase in the twentieth century, especially in the United States, factories began appearing worldwide to supply the necessary materials for companies. They were a gateway out of poverty in developing countries because it opened Job positions for millions of workers.
With the raise in workers there grew a concern over the terrible working conditions, acceptable wages, hours, etc. As a result, the International Labor Organization was founded in 1919 to develop a core set of labor standards to ensure a standard working atmosphere worldwide. They include: “Freedom of association; The elimination of all forms or forced or compulsory labour; The effective abolition of child labour; The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation; and Right to collective bargaining” (Verma and Elman et. l. 2008, 58). While these standards are simply a basic list of human rights, they have not been enforced and cause controversy amongst the workers themselves in other developing countries. In the article Labour Standards for a Fair Globalization for Workers of the World, co-authors, Anil Verma and Gail Elman (2008), state “Specifically, freedom of association, the right to ollectively bargain, and the ban on child labour are all problematic… many countries recognize them only with certain limits and not as a universal right” (57).
Therefore, networks try to maneuver around the rights in order to get their specific product out in the most fast, cost efficient way. Workers within these sweatshops are making pennies per hour and if these are raised it will disrupt the entire chain. The company will have to pay more and therefore raise the prices for consumers, which could threaten their profit and benefits. Urban Outfitters Inc. and the majority of major etworks within the global commodity chain are established in first-world countries where labor standards are strictly enforced.
Although they cannot directly control the operation of manufacturing companies in other countries in which they purchase From fashion to household items to quirky miscellaneous gadgets, Urban Outfitters Inc. distributes an array of chic products through its five retail brands: Urban Outfitters, Anthropology, Free People, Terrain, and BHLDN. Since the company originated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1970, it has grown to operate over 400 various locations worldwide (URBN et. al. 2012, 1). The retail empire is popular amongst a vast amount of ages, ranging from trendy to luxurious, designer products.
Although the company has drawn in billions of dollars with its increasing high consumer demand, issues arose in 2009 because firms within the company began denying collective bargaining rights amongst its workers (Beck, et. al. 2005, 1). There are numerous factors that influence why global commodity chains have good or bad labor standards and why they choose to do so. When purchasing these raw materials they want to pay as little as possible so they make a better profit. For example, in article on AfterNet. om states that Urban Outfitters Inc. “use’s non-union overseas sewing shops” in India.
These women claimed that they had no other source of income besides prostitution. When asked why they do not push for higher wages, the workers responded, “that higher wages would necessarily lead to layoffs and skyrocketing consumer prices” (Beck, et. al. 2005,1). These factories known, as ‘sweatshops,’ are an escape from poverty and companies take advantage of the people because the supply for workers is much greater than the demand. Therefore people are willing to work for pennies in overtime shifts and poor conditions, making s little as $45 a month (Silverstein et. al. 2010, 37).
When companies like Urban Outfitters purchase their supplies from them, they bring it over to developed countries where they hand it off to the distributors. The distributors who further process the clothes in large factories – packaging and delivering – are paid an immense amount more to do less labor. It can be seen that it is evident that the geographical location makes a huge difference. Workers in countries like the United States get full benefits and acceptable wages, whereas workers in developing ountries can barely meet ends and are forced to resort to other options, such as child labor.
Along with problems associated with collective bargaining rights, Urban Outfitters Inc. is constantly criticized for association with forced child labor. The company receives all its cotton from Uzbekistan – one of the largest forced child labor productions. According to an article on Laborrights. org (2008), that promotes a campaign against child labor in Uzbekistan, it states, “the government actually removes throes of children from school and places them in cotton fields during the arvest season. In first world countries, especially the United States, it is mandatory to attend school and strict rules against child labor under a reasonable age. However, children in developing countries are forced to work in order to help support their families. While it is seen as a form of cruelty in our eyes, some parents actually embrace the fact that their children will work in factories because it keeps them safe from crime and poverty. The columnist Nicholas D. Kristof (2009) addresses how parents actually appreciate the gateway factories offer because they are the highest aying Jobs in the article, “Where Sweatshops Are a Dream. He states, “Talk to these families in the dump, and a Job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere to stay safe and survive longer is contradicting. However, it is the only way that these millions of families can survive. While it is much easier said than done to issue different policies and consumer choices that may improve labor conditions, it is however very possible. In regards to issues concerning collective bargaining by the factory workers of Urban Outfitters Inc. their wages can easily be increased to acceptable standards. Silverstein (2010) continues to discuss in his article how much a few extra dollars spent would impact the lives of these workers. He states “If you sell a pair of tennis shoes for $101 instead of $102, no consumer will notice the difference, but it will drastically transform villages” (44). A dollar difference would not even faze consumers today based on the immense amount of money we spend on Just clothes alone. As for child labor standards a mutual fund company, Amalgamated Bank’s Longview, with stocks in Urban Outfitters Inc. urging the retailer to adopt international labor standards. According to a news article in New Mexico’s Business Weekly it stated in its 2008 proxy statement that it “expects suppliers to adhere to child-labor laws and prohibitions on forced labor” (1). This will have little to know impact because it is still allowing countries to get away with it. Numerous companies such as Gap Inc. , Target, Walmart, etc. have signed petitions agreeing to address the issues of child labor in Uzbekistan (Laborrights. org et. al. 2008). But why can Urban not even make that small step towards change in labor standards?
As seen through the publicly traded American company Urban Outfitters Inc. , it is evident that networks within commodity chains are still associated with poor working conditions and sweat-shop labor, especially in developing countries. The fact that Urban is continuing to purchase supplies from factories that pay their workers pennies and endorse child labor is what creates the international division of labor. Although people are aware of these severe issues, consumers are not directly affected by it. Therefore they will keep purchasing that new skirt, or cotton blouse which only continues the drastic cycle.
These factors combined have molded the present day mindset of American Society in terms of commodity chains that are viewed as a social norm. Whether or not the geographical battle will come to an end will be determined by how individual networks like Urban Outfitters Inc. , approaches the conflict.