How Often Do Companies Check On Overseas Manufacturers?

With the Gap embarrassed this week by reports that Indian children as young as 10 were making Gap Kids clothing, a lot of people are asking, just how frequently and to what degree do large U.S. companies like Gap and Wal-Mart monitor their foreign manufacturers? According to Slate, “anywhere from six months to once every several years.” Unfortunately, because the visits are usually announced ahead of time, factories can hide violations, coach employees on what to say, get rid of the child workers, and forge records. In China, there are consultants who will prepare a factory for inspection, going so far as to fake missing records.

The Gap, Nike, and Levi Strauss actually have comparatively large inspection teams for U.S. companies, but “large” in this sense means about 90 inspectors for the Gap—the number of inspections-per-plant for the Gap in 2006 still worked out to about one every six months.

The current inspection process has only been around since the early to mid-90s, and clearly the current level of inspections aren’t working:

A forthcoming study from the Worker Rights Consortium examined 50 factories serving these top companies and found major problems at each location, like verbal abuse, lack of access to drinking water and bathrooms, and the inability for workers to organize. In 84 percent of those factories, workers didn’t understand how their salary was determined.

“Checking on Sweatshops” [Slate]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. royal72 says:

    “How Often Do Companies Check On Overseas Manufacturers?”

    just enough to placate your concerns and keep you buying.

    ps. chris, you should add firestone to the list.

  2. kellyd says:

    Americans cannot trust American companies to abide by American ideals without regulatory presence. They don’t want to check and find out, they don’t want to successfully identify and eliminate labor violations. They want to blindly profit off of unjust labor practices. We’ve got to hold them accountable by not buying their crap.

  3. bohemian says:

    The only way you will get American companies to change one bit is through monetary pain. Severe fines, lawsuits or major boycotts are about the only effective options.

    This is why Nancy Nord was against increasing the possible fine on companies who violate. She’s on their side. I think there should not only be federal fines but start doing class actions on any of the significant ones. Like the melamine dead pets one.

    Only when companies face severe financial punishment will they even bother.

  4. JimmyKumby says:

    While American companies are “abid[ing] by American ideals” when they’re operating in a foreign country, they should also follow that country’s customs, since they’re hiring local companies to perform the bulk of the work. The comparison should not be between U.S. workers and foreign workers, since that comparison would be meaningless (unless you magically expect every worker to have the same quality of life as U.S. citizens): the comparison should be the life the foreign worker has now, working the evil empire job, versus his quality of life before the job appeared. If he’s better off, then how dare anyone complain that the job is beneath the worker: why not let him decide, and then walk if he doesn’t see a benefit? Or would it be better if the jobs were eliminated by the well-intentioned meddlings of outsider elites who don’t grasp that conditions are relative, that, while it’s a worthy goal, not everyone has it (or can have it) as good as Westerners in the short term?

    I love the pull quote: “verbal abuse,” “the inability for [sic] workers to organize,” and 84% of factory workers “didn’t understand how their salary was determined.” Oh, the humanity! Unless it’s slavery, the factory workers value the jobs and their benefits more than they value freedom from the jobs’ conditions and no benefits. How about letting them continue to choose?

  5. Beerad says:

    @JimmyKumby: That logic doesn’t work. By that standard, a company could make its employees work 20 hour days without breaks, give them one loaf of bread per day, and say “What, you’d be starving without us — this is so much better than you’d have it otherwise!” An extreme example, to be sure, but perhaps a more realistic picture is the overseas factory that doesn’t really have any sort of safety standards. Sure, you’re inhaling toxic chemicals without protection and someone loses a hand every other month, but you’ve got it “so good” compared to the crushing poverty you enjoyed previously. And sorry about the cancer!

    It took government intervention in this country to end (or at least decrease) rampant labor abuses – you think the companies in the US just decided to be nicer to employees out of the goodness of their heart? Why would it be different anywhere else? And that only happened here with the help of unions and organized workers, which you apparently deride. Not much of a “choice” when you and your coworkers aren’t allowed to “choose” to try and improve your working conditions, eh?

  6. Trackback says:

    THIS FEIGNED IGNORANCE IS REALLY GETTING OLD The UK Observer’s expose of the Gap’s sweatshops has everyone looking at labor conditions overseas. Wal-Mart, several times larger than the Gap by far, has been the subject of many human rights investigations.