In my field, it's often a challenging time. When I first joined the advisory board of Social Accountability International (SAI) back in 1997, sweatshop conditions were very much in the headlines. After a decade and a half of widespread auditing, it's deeply troubling to see the current factory disasters—two in Bangladesh at facilities that did not adopt SA8000. The 2012 fire in Pakistan was at an SA8000-certified factory in Pakistan, which has caused reputational challenges for SAI. Changes are being implemented and I'm sure more will be in the works.
What most excites you about heading up SAI's Advisory Board?
I am very excited about the personal growth this post offers. It's a leadership opportunity, one that stretches my ability to convene multiple personalities and agendas. Members of the advisory board come from trade unions; brands such as Gap, Hewlett-Packard and Gucci; and NGOs that include the Rainforest Alliance, the Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption and the World Wildlife Fund.
Can't governments regulate factories? Why is SA8000 necessary?
Local laws—and their enforcement—vary from country to country. SA8000 standardizes conditions for factory workers around the world, drawing on conventions from the United Nations, the International Labor Organization and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It says yes to worker empowerment and no to excessive hours, child labor and human trafficking, among other things.
Why is there so little customer awareness of SA8000?
It's a chicken and egg situation—until you start promoting SA8000, how can anyone recognize it? I'm excited EILEEN FISHER hangtags call out which garments were produced in SA8000-certified factories. It will be interesting to see how our customers respond—will they begin to look for this when they shop? I'm hoping that customer demand will increase and that will make our work easier.
Any parting thoughts?
After almost two decades of this work, I think the big question that SAI—and any social compliance organization—has to ask is, how effective have we been in improving worker welfare? What impact have we had as a human rights movement? And is SAI's mission from 1997 still relevant today? That's what I'm reflecting on now.