Blog: Rhetoric or reality?
Leonie Barrie | 11 February 2004
Hollywood actress Minnie Driver is helping to publicise the plight of Cambodian garment workers in a new Oxfam campaign, but perhaps the finger of blame should be pointed closer to home. The charity has released a report accusing retailers of inflicting poor working conditions on millions of women workers around the world to feed ever-rising consumer expectations of cheap produce, and says they increasingly pass on costs without paying more for the end product. It wants to encourage consumers to "not only buy smart but buy ethical,” and is calling on large corporations to reconsider their buying practices.
While most business leaders applaud the rhetoric of global corporate social responsibility, the reality of the corporate business model is somewhat different when faced with shareholders demanding returns on their investments and consumers who have learnt to shop around for the best deals.
And even legislation isn’t infallible. Little coverage has been given to the fact that Cambodia was praised by Oxfam for a unique factory inspection system set up by the UN's International Labour Organisation which it has helped abolish the country’s sweatshops. By contrast, in the UK last weekend 19 cockle pickers, reported to be labouring for as little as £1 per day, were swept to their deaths. Even in supposedly developed countries, with a network of legislation to prevent such incidents, it seems that some people labour beyond the reach of the law.
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