April 04, 2017
The New York Times had a front page article Friday, “Brands Wrestle With Whiplash of Viral Anger,” that explores the requirement for increased nimbleness on the part of brands as activists pressure them concerning the placement of their advertising. While the article is concerned with advertising, it has an important quotation that speaks to something deeper:
“Americans are now demanding that their brands articulate their values and weigh in on political issues, and I think the degree to which they are expecting that is really quite new,” said Kara Alaimo, who teaches public relations at Hofstra University.
The consumer demand stands in sharp contrast to the claim by Milton Friedman in the same newspaper almost fifty years earlier: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud” (NYT, Sept. 13, 1970).
While today’s article is quite good, giving the context of a handful of current controversies, it misses a more crucial question: Why do Americans demand more of their brands? Why do Americans now expect CEOs to speak out about presidential executive orders, state laws, and a myriad of concerns that, at first blush, seem removed from their corporate responsibilities?
One macro explanation is that the social contract has changed. While numerous philosophers have described the “social contract,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Du contrat social (1762) may be the canonical description of the concept. Rousseau’s concept included business but his notion of the social contract was largely a consideration of individuals and the government. An individual yields sovereignty to a government that in turn provides prosperity, security, and health. Rousseau’s concept did not envision the circumstance we have today. Corporations have evolved such that they wield enormous resources and, thereby, influence. Multi-national corporations now have annual sales that dwarf the economies of many nations. The graphic below shows that, if the largest corporations’ annual sales were considered alongside the GDP of nations, more than 40 corporations rank in the top 100. In 2016, Wal-Mart ranks #21, with an economy larger than that of Sweden.
The enormous size and scale of multinational corporations fittingly drives the desire on the part of consumers that these corporations express the values of those consumers. Hence, a controversial state law may spark statements from large employers in that state. Further, leading institutions, like the United Nations, via the Global Compact which engages more than 9,000 global companies in support of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the Catholic Church, in documents like Laudato Si’, attempt to persuade the corporate community that business must attend as well to the care of creation and concern for the most poor on the planet.
A changing landscape with greater concentration of power in large, multi-national corporations brings greater responsibility for attending to matters that were once not a day-to-day concern in the operations of a corporation.
October 10, 2016
The Human Thread has endorsed the bipartisan Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016, which enables human trafficking victims to clear federal convictions from their records for crimes that traffickers forced them to commit.
Introduced on September 28, 2016 Congresswomen Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rob Portman (R-OH), this bill has been prioritized by the National Survivor Network. To read their press release on this legislation, click here.
This bill contains the following important provisions:
To read the full letter click here.
To read a factsheet about this legislation click here.
To read the full bill text click here.
In the above photo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, center, joins survivors of human trafficking as well as advocates Sunday as she announces a proposal called the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2016. An article about the event can be found here.
July 07, 2016
The Human Thread has endorsed a letter from the Cotton Campaign that urges the World Bank to take vital steps to end the forced labor in the Uzbek cotton industry. A coalition comprised of human rights organizations, trade unions, socially responsible investors and business associations, the Cotton Campaign works to end forced labor of children and adults in the cotton industry in Uzbekistan. Last year, Uzbekistan earned $835.4 million in cotton exports, eleventh among countries world-wide. A detailed report, “The Cover-Up: Whitewashing Uzbekistan’s White Gold,” documents systemic abuses in the supply chain from that same year.
Clearly, additional steps must be taken by those with leverage to bring about change. Therefore, The Human Thread joins with the Cotton Campaign in calling upon the World Bank to take six steps for action in Uzbekistan:
The World Bank Group is providing more than $500 million in financing to the government of Uzbekistan for its agriculture sector and additional financing to multinational companies processing forced-labor cotton in Uzbekistan.
Suspend disbursements until the Uzbek government demonstrates meaningful progress reforming the root causes of forced labor, its financial system that incentivizes officials to use coercion and repression of citizens who report violations
Engage and work with the Uzbek government to develop and implement a time-bound plan to reform root causes of forced labor in the agriculture sector, including the steps recommended to the government here
Ensure robust and fully independent third-party monitoring of compliance with core labor conventions in the project areas
Establish a confidential and accessible grievance mechanism and provide effective remedies, including legal and financial, to any person who is subjected to forced labor in the project areas
Take all necessary measures to prevent reprisals against community members, journalists, and independent organizations for monitoring or reporting on human rights violations in these areas, for engaging with the Bank’s project monitors, or for filing complaints, including by seeking an enforceable commitment from the government that it will not interfere with independent reporting and engagement
Raise concerns about the safety and access of independent monitors publicly and at the highest levels and make clear that their ability to work unimpeded is a vital sign of the government’s good faith and requirement for World Bank financing
July 07, 2016
As the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the world, the U.S. government has a unique responsibility to ensure that American tax dollars do not contribute to human trafficking in our Federal supply chains. As part of the government’s ongoing work to meet this responsibility, on May 11, 2016, the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, and NASA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) by providing a definition of “recruitment fees” that Federal contractors are prohibited from charging workers under Executive Order 13627, “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts.” The Human Thread received encouragement to review the proposed rule and to provide written comments through the formal process.
A little history: the FAR policy on combating trafficking in persons was modified in 2015 to prohibit Federal contractors from charging employees recruitment fees, consistent with Executive Order 13627. Shortly after the 2015 final FAR rule was published, the FAR Council recognized a need for further rulemaking to clarify the meaning of “recruitment fees” in the FAR policy so that the existing prohibition is applied in a consistent manner.
We submitted our input in the hopes of improving the definitions for a clear and effective rule that will further the important goal of eliminating human trafficking in Federal supply chains. We consider our participation in this rulemaking to be an important effort to protect vulnerable persons.
In consultation with others with significant background, we submitted a comment for the NPRM that can be found here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FAR-2015-0017-0005.
Our comment reads:
The agencies’ efforts to clarify the FAR’s prohibition on contractors charging employees recruitment fees is welcome. Moreover, we commend the agencies on their proposed inclusion of an illustrative list of charges and costs that qualify as “recruitment fees.” However, further delineation and clarification is needed to ensure that the definition set forth in the FAR encompasses the full scope of problematic costs and charges.
The proposed definition of “recruitment fees” includes costs related to “training.” We strongly support inclusion of training-related fees, but we are concerned with the ambiguity of this term. We urge the agencies to specify that “training” covers more than just required courses or certifications needed by employees or potential employees for work in a particular industry such as teaching or nursing. In addition, “training” should include courses recruiters lead victims to believe they need in order to qualify for a position, even if the training is not actually mandatory for employment. Such courses can include English-language programs, driving lessons, and behavioral and cultural workshops (separate from cultural orientation programs).
This deplorable activity is evidenced by first-hand accounts of survivors of labor trafficking. Victims describe traffickers luring them into paying for expensive seminars and courses that they fraudulently stated were required for teaching positions in the United States. This type of scheme led to a number of individuals being forced into severe debt-bondage situations.
We urge the agencies to include “insurance” costs in the illustrative list of recruitment fees. In order to clarify the scope of this item, we suggest that it be listed as: “all insurance fees, including, but not limited to, health, medical, and dental insurance.”
Transportation & Subsistence Costs
We further support inclusion of “transportation and subsistence costs from the airport or disembarkation point to the worksite.” We urge the agencies to expand this item to include transportation or travel from the airport or port of entry to housing accommodations as well as the worksite.