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Overseas abuses: Who's monitoring the shop?

July 7, 2003
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Workers in approximately 20 percent of the factories in countries from El Salvador to Taiwan, from Mauritius to Bangladesh, report serious verbal, physical or sexual abuse on the job.

The statistic for such abuse in Sri Lanka is 70 percent, and fear of reprisals makes that a conservative estimate.

This abuse is only the most obvious pattern of mistreatment in overseas factories, a growing concern among shareholders of multinational corporations and the general public.

These findings come from a research and monitoring organization called Verite. Founded in 1995 to address some of the social consequences of globalization on children and factory workers worldwide, Verit¿ow has operations in 46 countries.

Relying on their worldwide network of auditors and NGOs, as well as their experienced staff, Verite produces a series of Country Notebooks that describe labor laws, standard of living, human rights and worker conditions in the most exacting detail. These publications are compiled for countries that companies rely on for production, and are updated annually.

Verite also produces a series of Issues Reports, addressing timely subjects in the world of labor conditions. Their current reports focus on contract labor, a phenomenon of the new global market in which large numbers of mobile workers travel internationally for factory jobs where they do not speak the language, making them very vulnerable to maltreatment.

Last year a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 50,000 contract workers from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Thailand, for human rights violations and poor factory conditions on Saipan, ended in a settlement by U.S. apparel retailers. Verite was chosen to be the independent monitor of the factories.

How do Verite and their local NGO partners conduct audits of such prickly issues as harassment, child labor, safety violations and worker abuse, without interference? Factory management must agree to cooperate with the audit process as a condition of doing business with their buyers, the multinational corporations that hire Verite.

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