COVID-19 RESPONSE: Take action to protect farmworkers in Immokalee!

TODAY'S NEWS

Genevieve LeBaron, author of new book Combatting Modern Slavery: Why Labour Governance Is Failing and What We Can Do About it, pens scathing critique of corporate-led social responsibility efforts for Reuters Foundation in op/ed titled, “It’s time to stop believing corporate fairy tales about modern slavery”;

“Study after study has found that tools like social auditing and ethical certification are profoundly flawed and ineffective when it comes to the worst forms of labour exploitation… Research reveals corporate fairytales for what they are: enthralling stories that are very unlikely to be true.”

This past August we reported on the publication of a landmark, 10-year study of 40 corporate social responsibility initiatives, titled “Not Fit for Purpose: The Grand Experiment of Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives in Corporate Accountability, Human Rights, and Global Governance,” that concluded that the traditional, corporate-led model of social responsibility “should not be relied upon for the protection of human rights” in global supply chains.  That study, which compiled research on a wide range of corporate ethical  certification schemes — including such well-known social responsibility brands as Fair Trade International, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Ethical Food Initiative — found, in no uncertain terms, that those programs “are not effective tools for holding corporations accountable for abuses, protecting rights holders against human rights violations, or providing survivors and victims with access to remedy.”  The same study identified the Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model, and the CIW’s Fair Food Program specifically, as examples of the new “gold standard” for human rights protection in corporate supply chains, citing the WSR model’s strategic decision to situate workers and communities “at the center of decision-making,” and its harnessing of participating buyers’ market power to enforce human rights standards, as essential to endowing “rights holders” with real power to enforce their own rights.

And now, with the publication of a powerful new book by Genevieve LeBaron, a Professor of Politics and Co-Director of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield (UK), it would appear that a growing academic consensus has indeed emerged: The dominant social responsibility paradigm has failed, and the time has come for a concerted expansion of the WSR model to protect workers’ fundamental human rights in corporate supply chains.  

In an op/ed published by the Reuters Foundation to mark the release of her new book, Professor LeBaron wastes no time in getting straight to the heart of her thesis.  Her op/ed, titled “It’s time to stop believing corporate fairy tales about modern slavery,” begins:

Corporations love to tell fairytales about their efforts to eradicate modern slavery. On panels at the World Economic Forum, rock music festivals, and in glossy corporate social responsibility (CSR) brochures, they tell us about their codes of conduct that can prevent debt bondage in faraway lands and the heroic social auditors they hire to tame unruly factories. They regale us with stories about the criminal perpetrators of human trafficking and slavery contaminating otherwise pristine supply chains, and how their multi-stakeholder initiatives and working groups and partnerships with anti-slavery organizations can swoop in to save the day.

These stories are seductive…  We want to believe the happy and compelling stories they tell about bringing decent work and living wages to workers across the global economy are true.

But the evidence suggests they are not. As I argue in my new book Combatting Modern Slavery published today – on World Day against Trafficking in Persons – academic research including my own suggests that CSR is badly failing to detect, address, and prevent forced labour in the global economy.  Study after study has found that tools like social auditing and ethical certification are profoundly flawed and ineffective when it comes to the worst forms of labour exploitation… Research reveals corporate fairytales for what they are: enthralling stories that are very unlikely to be true...

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