Oxfam International
FEBRUARY 9, 2004
10:56 PM
CONTACT:  Oxfam International
Lyndsay Cruz 202-496-1306
Big Brand Retailers Turning Up the Heat for Vulnerable Workers Says Oxfam

WASHINGTON - February 9 - Big brand companies and retailers in the fashion and food industries are driving down employment conditions for millions of women workers around the world, according to a new study by international agency Oxfam.

Oxfam says that huge retailing "empires" are undermining the very labor standards they claim to uphold by pursuing a common global strategy that demands ever-quicker and cheaper delivery of the freshest and latest products.

The companies are using their power at the top of global supply chains to squeeze their suppliers to deliver. This pressure is dumped immediately onto women workers in the form of ever-longer hours at faster work rates, often in poor conditions, and no job security. The report says that millions of women are being denied their fair share of the benefits of globalisation as a result.

"This is where globalization is failing in its potential to lift people out of poverty and support development," said Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign director Phil Bloomer. "Corporations have codes of conduct to hold their suppliers accountable for labor standards, but their own ruthless buying strategies often make it impossible for these standards to be met."

Oxfam's report "Trading Away Our Rights" published today combines research from 13 employment-related campaigns across rich and poor countries, and interviews with more than 1,000 workers, factory and farm owners, global brands, importers, exporters, union and government officials.

Examining the lucrative food and clothing industries, the report finds that companies are outsourcing their production, using new technologies, attractive trading incentives and their dominant market position to drive cost and risk down their supply chains. Corporate buying teams have massive power to pressure their suppliers to deliver "just-in-time" orders at lower prices.

Companies such as Taco Bell and Wal-mart must radically alter the way they work with producers and in negotiating deliveries and prices, Oxfam says. Farm and factory owners told researchers they realize that the real power within the corporations lay with the buying teams -- whose actions Oxfam says are helping to cause worsening employment conditions -- rather than those teams responsible for codes of conduct.

Bloomer said: "Today's business ethos is 'make it quick, make it flexible, and make it cheap'. Anyone appalled by terrible labor conditions in the world today should be asking, 'so who turned up the heat?' The workers at the bottom of the global supply chains are helping to fuel national export growth and shareholders' returns -- but their jobs are being made ever more insecure, unhealthy and exhausting and their rights weakened. This must change."

For a copy of the report go to: http://www.oxfam.org/eng/pdfs/report_042008_labor.pdf

For brief biographies of partners and contacts in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Honduras, Kenya, Morocco, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Thailand, UK, US: http://www.maketradefair.com