From HR to HR: How human resources policies improve human rights

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) is one of the best-known organizations supporting and promoting fair labor conditions inside factories. FLA’s Participating Companies include mostly apparel and footwear companies such as Adidas, HandM, Nike and Patagonia. This year, Apple signed on after it came under fire for the working conditions at Foxconn, the largest producer of Apple products. It is the aim of the FLA to identify root causes for the unsafe and unfair working conditions in factories. To that end, it is currently rolling out a Sustainable Compliance assessment methodology to improve conditions in factories from the core rather than with a Band-Aid approach.

Lo and behold, many of the solutions to address the root causes of factory violations lie in human resources policies and procedures. My column usually covers the sustainability-human resources connection played out in the United States. Today’s article looks at human resources policy as a contributor to improving the rights of workers globally. The FLA’s Sustainable Compliance assessment methodology will play a critical role in helping companies and other stakeholders ensure a holistic assessment approach that can sustain good working conditions over the long haul.

Empowered stakeholders recipe for comprehensive compliance

This new methodology underscores employee-responsive management systems and higher levels of worker engagement in the design, application and evaluation of human resource policies. FLA identified the functions essential to the employment lifecycle of a factory worker:

·      recruitment, hiring and personnel development;

·      health and safety;

·      termination and worker retrenchment;

·      compensation;

·      hours of work;

·      industrial relations;

·      grievance system; and

·      workplace conduct and discipline; and environmental protection.

Each employment function is analyzed through the lens of six management functions, namely policy and procedures; responsibility and accountability; review process; training; implementation; and communication and worker involvement. This methodology creates a standardized reporting tool that can produce scores for each of these employment and management functions, offering stakeholders the ability to benchmark, compare and track improvements.

These metrics give consumers and civil society organizations the tools to make better purchasing decisions and businesses the incentives to go beyond just rudimentary labor practice requirements. As Christine Bader recently wrote, while it’s positive many companies are being more transparent with their labor practices, how does a consumer really know what’s behind the product if “they aren’t part of the best-known (at least to me) certification schemes like the FLA, which has primarily large companies sign on (and pay) to have independent monitors inspect their factories.”

Next page: Getting down to the nitty-gritty