The current economic crisis has the potential of exposing and correcting two “fatal flaws” of the corporate social responsibility programs, says Garrett Brown, a health and safety expert and longtime campaigner for worker rights.
In a May 7 article for a professional health and safety publication, Brown identifies those flaws as follows:
1. “The schizophrenic business model that demands the lowest possible production costs at the same time [demanding] full compliance with national laws and corporate ‘codes of conduct,’ andThat’s the potentially good news. The bad news, Brown writes, is that the deepening economic crisis “threatens to accelerate to light speed the ‘race to the bottom’ in working conditions that two decades of globalized production has meant for most workers around the world.”
2. “The lack of any meaningful participation by workers.”
He argues that the economic crisis is all the more reason to pressure governments and companies to develop worker participation, particularly in enforcing occupational safety and health standards in offices and plants.
In the May 7 column he writes: “Even in the best of times, safe workplaces are next to impossible without genuinely empowered workers –and are completely impossible at times of economic crisis when downward pressures intensify.”
As one example of downward pressures, he cites recent actions taken by China’s government to appeal to foreign investors: freezing scheduled increases in minimum wages, reducing or suspending employer payments into the social insurance system, restoring export tax credits, and passing word that the new labor protection laws of 2008 won’t be seriously enforced.
Brown has been the coordinator of a health and safety support network with projects in Central America, China, Mexico, and Indonesia since 1993. His article, titled “Corporate Social Responsibility,” appears in the Industrial Safety and Health News.