Low-wage workers at the base of corporate supply chains are still isolated, vulnerable, and exploited. Governments aren’t always able to protect the rights of citizens or migrant workers or lack the political will to do so. Corporations bear responsibility for the well-being of workers, but more often than not “they tend to treat the discovery of abuses in their supply chains as public relations crises to be managed, rather than human rights violations to be remedied.”
Even Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are largely flawed because they are voluntary commitments with weak enforcement, but moreover because they do not “put workers – the very people whose rights are in question and who have the most direct knowledge of the relevant environment – at the center of developing and enforcing solutions to the problem.”
Seeking a new way forward, workers’ rights advocates are pushing for a “Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Model.”
Workers are the only actors in the supply chain with a vital and abiding interest in ensuring that their rights are protected. As importantly, only workers are fully aware of the many manifestations of abuse that occur in their workplace. Indeed, they are the first to know about the vast majority of human rights violations. Consequently, workers are uniquely situated to be the most effective monitors of their own rights, and they and their organizations must be at the head of the table in the creation, monitoring, and enforcement of programs designed to improve their situation.
Where workers are unable to participate freely because of repressive laws or practices, companies sourcing from those places should nonetheless embrace all other aspects of WSR, including, most importantly, an effective enforcement mechanism.
The proponents of the WSR model explain that it is “worker-driven, enforcement-focused, and based on legally binding commitments that place responsibility for improving working conditions on the global corporations at the top of those supply chains.”
Lastly, WSR calls for transparency, asking for public disclosure of the names and locations of participating buyers and suppliers.