British retailers (Primark, Asda, Tesco) have been yet again accused of violating fundamental human rights standards. The NGO War on Want has recently published comprehensive report ‘Fashion II‘ on labour rights standards in garment industry in Bangladesh. The report alleges that ‘workers producing clothes for Primark face growing poverty on as little as 7p an hour for up to 80-hour weeks.’ The report further notes that ‘workers have explained that management and the police coordinate their actions to stifle any labour protests. Nazera, who works in a factory producing clothes for Asda and Tesco, told War on Want’s team that: If workers try to organise themselves or form a trade union, management call the police to punish them or file false cases against the workers.’ All in all, raises a number of serious allegations against three transantional corporations.
It follows that every corporation, particularly transnational corporations, have obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. Obligation to respect or not do any harm is not so controversial. But corporations have also obligation to protect, which means that they have to ensure that also third parties (their suppliers, contractors and other business partners) do not violate human rights. What is more, corporations themselves recognize themselves that they have obligations in this respect. In other words, corporations must ensure that human rights are observed throughout their supply chain. For example, see the following responses to War on Want recent report. Primark noted in this respect that:
‘In Bangladesh we continually audit our suppliers. These audits are often unannounced and always paid for by Primark … we have also started a programme of direct engagement with workers and junior management to ensure that they are aware of our commitment to them and to continual improvement. Our customers can continue to shop in Primark secure in the knowledge that the company works hard to ensure that high standards are met.’
Asda observed that:
“We are working directly with factory owners to create more sustainable businesses by improving factory conditions, improving efficiency in production techniques and therefore reducing working hours and aligning worker pay with these improvements in productivity … we would welcome the opportunity to work with War on Want to identify any issues and formulate a structured plan to help resolve this.”
Nonetheless, the transnational corporations must do a better job in ensuring that fundamental human rights are not violated by their suppliers or contractors.