At first glance this all may seem rather ordinary, after all, organized worker-strikes go back in history ever since the industrial revolution. However, something about these new later movements is definitely different, and If you are an employer, then I suggest you start paying a lot more attention to what is going on.
Lesson Number One: Undereducated, no longer means unaware, courtesy of Walmart:
Employers may think that their undereducated workers are easier to bully, well, that may have been true in the past as undereducated workers were less likely to able to learn their rights, and therefore more likely to accept poor working conditions. Also workers normally feared losing their jobs if they spoke up, and rather remained silent as their employers abused the situation.
Today we are offered an alternative reality, learning is no longer exclusive to those with a degree, information flows everywhere for everyone, and everybody can learn their rights, or how to tell if their working conditions are adequate or not. A powerful example to this is "Our Walmart": an organized effort by past and current associates of Walmart (The world's second largest public corporation, according to the Fortune Global 500 list in 2013). This group of associates have decided that they have had enough of how Walmart treats its workers.
Ever since the protests broke out in 2011, "Our Walmart" members have had hundreds of thousand of petitions signed to reinstate unfairly fired or disciplined employees, led 10,000 people at the largest-ever march calling on the retail giant to treat its associates with respect, and now has protests across 15 different cities in the U.S.
"We envision a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers receive great service and value, and Walmart and Associates share all of these goals."
To me, these guys are showing more understanding of the essence Corporate Responsibility than Walmart top executives ever did which makes them Walmart's greatest asset today, and Walmart would be missing out on this asset if it chooses to continue ignoring their demands.
Lesson Number Two: Corporate Responsibility is no longer confined within your company's walls, courtesy of Apple:
Suppliers and vendors are like extended family members, you are tied together for the better or worse, and you can never know when their problems would cause you trouble. Apple had to learn this lesson the hard way, the multi-billion dollar technology innovator was hit hard when U.S media reported the multiple stories of worker abuse at FOXCONN (supplier of Apple's iPad) including child labour and multiple worker suicides.
Shortly after, raged Apple customers demanded the technology giant to take action to leash its supplier thus giving Apple a tough reminder that it cannot protect its brand while its back is left exposed to all the troubles caused by its supply chain.
In the report Apple also stated that it had found 91 children working at 10 facilities. The previous year it found 11 at three workplaces. It ordered most to pay the children's education costs but fired one contractor which was using 42 minors and had "chosen to overlook the issue", the company said. It also reported the vocational school that had arranged the employment to the authorities for falsifying student IDs and threatening retaliation against pupils who revealed their ages. Apple said it had strengthened its checks on age because of concerns about the falsification of ages by such schools and labor agencies. It also audited 127 facilities last year, mostly for the first time, compared with 102 in 2009.
Even today Apple is still on the hot seat as a large number of its customers are still not sure that the malpractices at FOXCONN have stopped, and new concerns rise almost every time Apple announces a new product line.
Lesson Number Three: Fixing the problem after its too late will cost you more, and will not necessarily be successful, courtesy of FOXCONN:
Not many people knew who FOXCONN (The world's largest electronics contract manufacturer according to revenues) was until 2010, and it wasn't for a good reason, the giant was suddenly under the spotlight after 20 workers in one of its factories in China committed suicide by jumping off the factory roof, 14 of which died. The story was first reported by SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior) a stakeholder-driven organization dedicated for investigating and exposing workplace malpractices in China, who also reported stories about FOXCONN clients Apple, Dell, and Motorola among others.
But soon after FOXCONN learned that it cannot buy its way out of the situation as riots broke out in other factories, causing one of them to shut down for a day, while accidents concerned with workers occupational safety continued to surface in local and international media. Things would have been very different for FOXCONN today if only it payed more attention to its workers needs prior to those incidents.
Lesson Number Four: Blood stains don't wash off your brand easily, if ever! Courtesy of JEPCO:
Companies spend heavily on building their brands; the process takes years and lots of money to be successful, and even more to maintain and protect. However, a brand always remains fragile when its exposed to internal and external risks, especially when bad things happen in front of the the media and the public eye, even worse when things turn bloody.
JEPCO (Jordan Electric Power Company) had a taste of this tragedy when a former worker of the company self-immolated himself after his service was terminated. The story of the 30-year old worker soon received nationwide media coverage, and the personal story behind the incident caught fire on social media. Following the incident, JEPCO attempted to improve its workers conditions under the Electricity Workers Union, and the government pressure, while workers demonstrated a two-hour strike at JEPCO HQ in solidarity with the deceased worker.
On the positive side, the media and the press in Jordan are beginning to revolutionize as everyone embarks on the political, social and economic reform mission, today we see media firms such as Ro'ya TV and ARIJ encouraging whistleblowing and investigative journalism. Such firms empower people to speak up and to name-and-shame corrupt institutions in front of the public eye which hopefully would contribute to put an end to corporate as well as governmental misbehaviors.
If you are an employer and you find yourself unconvinced with what you have just read, then its very likely to be due to the following reasons:
- Unsatisfied workers are easily replaceable:
Yes they are indeed, but before you get comfortable with this argument, allow me to remind you that, workers and employees are the number one representatives of your brand, not only during their employment, but also after they go back to their homes. They will protect your brand for as long as they feel safe, and they are very likely to fight back if the are treated unjustly.
- Consumers would take the worker side only momentarily:
Whether customers care about worker conditions is a fad or a reality is big debate worldwide, even though there is a notable increase in customer boycott movements to back-up workers around the world, there is no way of telling if such movements will live on, true. But let us think about the basics for a minute, a consumer's first concern when it comes to product/service loyalty is convenience; whether it was the price, quality, or accessibility, aside from the price which you control, how will quality and accessibility still be there when your workers give up on you?
- Politics back you up:
This one is also very true, here in Jordan government and laws certainly favor the private sector's over workers and even consumers without a doubt. But if there is one thing I wouldn't recommend anyone to bet on right now, it would certainly be politics; governments are being changed or overthrown overnight and Social Justice has already made it to the top national priorities.
At the end whatever the counter argument may be, there is a key question to ask: How much more time is left before its too late? How much time is left before another worker commits suicide for being unjustly treated ? How much more time is left before workers here in Jordan learn their rights and take matters into their own hands? And how much time is left before consumers have realized their role in influencing how companies behave? I bet that not much time is left, employers should engage proactively and positively before the situation turns into utter chaos.
About the author:
Zaid Al Bitar
Senior Advisor & Co-Founder
CSR Watch Jordan
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