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Jill Esbenshade

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Codes of Conduct: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers’ Rights

Jill Esbenshade argues that outsourcing and subcontracting in the global apparel industry have allowed brand name companies to avoid legal liability for garment workers. In the global North, undocumented immigrants are highly exploited under conditions that frequently violate minimum wage and health and safety codes. In the global South, where labor laws are generally weaker, garment workers are also highly exploited and frequently denied their right to organize. When monitoring is understood as the result of the withdrawal of governments from enforcing labor standards as well as the weakening of labor unions, it becomes clear that the United States is experiencing a shift from a social contract between workers, businesses, and government to one that Esbenshade calls the social responsibility contract. The author claims that the development of codes of conduct, along with independent monitoring, provided workers and their allies with new tools for resistance. Illustrating this point, she recounts how anti-sweatshop student activists in the United States and Dominican garment workers effectively used monitoring and codes of conduct to pressure a large Korean-owned factory to make concessions to their workers — a victory that helped to galvanize the anti-sweatshop movement.

garment factories, private monitoring programs, anti-sweatshop movement, student activism, Dominican Republic

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 31, No. 3 (2004): 40-59