Forced Labor in the Globalized World
author: Terry Collingsworth, Conrad & Scherer
author: Regina M. Abrami, Harvard Business School, Harvard University
author: Roger Plant, International Labor Organization
author: Thomas A. Kochan, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: June 7, 2011, recorded: May 2005, views: 3575
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Before buying your next chocolate bar or sweatshirt, bear in mind its potential hidden cost: the forced labor of an impoverished worker. According to a recent International Labor Organization report, 12.3 million people from developing countries toil miserably to produce goods and services for industrialized nations. One after another, speakers on this panel reveal the astonishing pervasiveness of modern-day slavery, on which, it seems, the entire global economy now depends. Roger Plant makes clear that this is not a matter of low wages. “It’s when you enter a job or service against your freedom of will or choice and can’t get out without some penalty. Deception is a key aspect of forced labor.” Says Terry Collingsworth, “The brand names of the global economy are benefiting from forced labor. …You see children and young adults forced to work for them. I observed Walmart suppliers in China, where workers were told they’d get a job at a certain rate, who then found out they were in debt and couldn’t leave.” But it’s not just that developed countries and their corporations exploit these workers. Thomas Kochan says, “We’ve focused on globalization as products going across borders, and now we have people going across, and countries depending on those people to provide remittances back to families as a source of currency and income.” In recent times, Nike and Gap have begun to make their suppliers in developing nations adhere to codes of conduct, and activism in the West is making an impact. Regina Abrami says “Boardrooms are feeling the heat….But there’s fear that if someone does well, he will become less competitive. …If you don’t introduce government regulation that solves the problem of fair competition, you won’t solve the issue of corporations acting in less than virtuous ways.”
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