Sam Maher

Sam Maher

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Labour Behind the Label is calling for fair treatment for workers in two Manchester-based Primark suppliers amid concerns that they may face punishment over their legal status after Primark called in the Border Agency to deal with the issue.

Photo call: 9am Tuesday 25 November

The Grange City Hotel, 8-14 Cooper's Row, London EC3N 2BQ. Nearest tube: Tower Hill

Embargoed: 25 November 00:01

Tara and Stacey from the BBC reality show Blood, Sweat and T-shirts [1] will join Labour behind the Labour [2] campaigners to express their outrage at PRIMARK's presence at a PR conference [3] where they plan to teach other companies how to spin their way out of allegations of human rights abuses.

Workers' rights campaigners are today celebrating after PRIMARK pulled out of the PR Week conference: Taking the drama out of a crisis [1]. Associated British Foods (ABF) [2] PR chief, Geoff Lancaster was scheduled to share PRIMARK's tricks of the trade on spinning its way out of allegations of human rights abuses. But last night Label behind the Label [3] was informed by the conference organisers, Haymarket Events, that PRIMARK had pulled out having learned that workers' rights campaigners were planing to disrupt the conference to express their outrage at PRIMARK's presence at the conference.

Campaign success!

Labour behind the Label campaigners are celebrating after PRIMARK pulled out of the PR Week conference: Taking the drama out of a crisis. PRIMARK's PR chief, Geoff Lancaster was scheduled to share PRIMARK's tricks of the trade on spinning its way out of allegations of human rights abuses. But last week Label behind the Label was informed by the conference organisers, Haymarket Events, that PRIMARK had pulled out having learned that workers' rights campaigners were planning to disrupt the conference to express their outrage at PRIMARK's presence at the conference.


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Friday, 03 August 2007 08:17

Ethical policy


We recognise that our actions can have an impact on the lives of garment workers as well as those in other industries. In addition, as a solidarity organisation promoting responsible corporate behaviour of other companies, wer ecognise our responsibility to ensure our own practices are socially and environmentally responsible.

This may require us to invest more resources and staff time to fulfilling our ethical policy, and commit to doing this where financially possible. As a small organisation with limited budget, a balance needs to be struck between acting in a manner consistent with our values and ensuring we have the financial, technical and human resources to fulfil our organisational aims effectively.

This policy aims to set guidelines and minimum standards to ensure that this balance is reached in the everyday functioning of the organisation. The policy covers various aspects of our operations including travel, IT, Ethical procurement, energy use and public reporting.


Participation in national and international networks requires effective communication and the development of personal relationships through some degree of face-to-face contact. Outreach work too necessitates travel to the location of target groups. While recognising this, staff should seek to keep the total amount of travelling to a minimum, and to eliminate air travel wherever possible. The following protocols should be applied.

  1. Before committing to attend any event or meeting that requires intercity or international travel, staff should fully consider,
    1. possibilities for replacing meetings with other forms of communication such as Skype or phone conferencing.
    2. options for staff located closer to the meeting or event to attend in their place.
    3. whether or not attendance is justified if neither a) nor b) is feasible.
  2. Air travel is viewed as an unusual occurrence, not a regular option. Travelling to and/or from a meeting or event by air may not be considered unless one of the following criteria is met:
    1. it takes place outside of Europe.
    2. the cost of return travel by train exceeds £300 or travel by coach is outside of budgeted expenditure.
    3. the time to travel there and back over land exceeds 48 hours.
    4. another meeting, event or time-critical piece of work falls at a time when the staff member concerned would need to be travelling over land, and cannot be covered for by other LBL staff.
  3. Where one of the criteria in 2) is met, the staff member concerned should
    1. re-examine the necessity of attending the meeting or event.
    2. seek a second opinion from another member of the staff team or management committee before booking, setting out in writing the reasons why the meeting/event, and the flight, are deemed necessary.
    3. Staff should consider options for raising extra funds where cost of travelling overland is the prohibitive factor, reapportioning workloads where time is the prohibitive factor, and travelling over land in one direction even if both is not possible.
  4. Staff should aim to book travel as early as possible to ensure that the most competitive train tickets are available.
  5. Staff will record all their travel noting the location and type of transportation used through their expenses claim forms or invoices for travel.
  6. Car hire should only be considered as an option for UK travel when the person travelling is carrying heavy or bulky items.

Ethical Procurement

Part of our work is to push for responsible corporate behaviour, and we will therefore seek to source products and services in a way that promotes CSR.

  1. All quotes for products will be compared on the basis of their environmental and social impact and this will be given highest priority in sourcing.
  2. Where possible, we will aim to use products and services that meet at least one of the following criteria:
    1. are locally-sourced
    2. are supplied by local businesses
    3. are supplied by businesses with a social or environmental aim, social enterprises, or companies from the trade union or co-operative movements.
    4. are second-hand where appropriate
    5. are recommended by Ethical Consumer where appropriate
    6. take into account active campaign recommendations (e.g. electronics campaign)
  3. Where we sources garments, suppliers must meet all provisions of the CCC model code, including credible independent verification of working conditions, and membership of a multi-stakeholder initiative if appropriate. The manufacturing workforce should be organised into a trade union or cooperative.
  4. Organic, fair trade and recycled products shall be bought where available and not prohibitively expensive.
  5. Plastics (other than recycled) and polystyrene will be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
  6. A brief letter outlining ur concerns about working conditions in the manufacturing process will be sent out to relevant companies that we purchase from.

Information technology

We support the open source movement as a means of promoting wider access to technology, safeguarding knowledge for the collective benefit, spending our own resources more effectively, and challenging the dominance of corporate monopolies. We also aim to maximise our productivity and professionalism. In order to do both:

  1. We will work towards the use of open source operating systems and software wherever possible.
  2. This includes our website (server, Content-Management System, etc.)
  3. Job descriptions should state as “desirable” familiarity with open source software, and new staff without this familiarity should receive comprehensive training as part of their induction.
  4. All volunteers should receive basic training in open source software as needed, and twice a year a more comprehensive course for volunteers should be run. Time for this should be built into staff workplans, and money into budgets.
  5. We will work towards a website that complies with the WCAG 1.0 accessibility criteria (upgraded to 2.0 when appropriate). 

Energy use

Many of our key stakeholders in the South will be severely affected by climate change. It is therefore imperative that we minimise our carbon footprint (see also travel):

  1. All plugged electrical equipment should be switched off at the wall socket when not in use.
  2. All lights will be switched off when not in use, including leaving the room for short times.
  3. All office light bulbs will be energy saving (where possible).
  4. Computers will be set so that they will go to stand-by within five minutes of non-use and will switch off completely if not used within 15 minutes.
  5. Computers and monitors should not be left running at night.
  6. We will work to ensure that our offices are run on green electricity tariffs.
  7. Heating and cooling should be at the minimum needed in order to maintain a comfortable working environment.

Reduction, re-use and recycling of paper

We aim to minimise its environmental impact, while striving to maximise productivity and professionalism. The following protocols should ensure this:

  1. Where feasible, documents should be read and stored electronically rather than as paper copies. Office systems should be designed to maximise the amount of work that can be conducted electronically and minimise the amount of paper used.
  2. All paper will be printed on both sides of the page.
  3. All waste office paper will be recycled after use.
  4. Staff are encouraged to print all internal documents two sheets to one page and on both sides of the paper. Appropriate printer drivers should be installed to ensure this is possible.
  5. Where appropriate, envelopes and other stationery will be re-used.
  6. All office paper should be unbleached and recycled and where not available or inappropriate, from sustainably managed sources.
  7. All mass printing will be printed on recycled or sourced from sustainably managed forest paper with water based inks.

Public communication of our ethical policy

We aim to set a standard for other organisations to follow, and to demonstrate that an organisation can function sustainably without compromising its effectiveness. To that end:

  1. This policy should be placed on the our external website.
  2. Wherever possible, documents for external consumption should contain an ethical statement, for example, “Printed on recycled paper using water-based inks. Written in open source software on computers powered by green electricity.”
  3. Publications should be licensed under the Creative Commons License.
  4. Documents circulated externally (including online) should be tested for accessibility in open source applications, for example OpenOffice, open source PDF readers, Firefox
  5. We will strive to develop targets to record our performance relating to this policy.

Policy implementation and Review

  1. All staff have a responsibility to ensure this policy is implemented in their work and in their workplace.
  2. This policy will be reviewed annually.

Making the code part of the contract between the buying company and the supplier is not sufficient. Good implementation requires the integration of a range of positive actions into the company's management system and business practices including: transparency about where they source from, having people in the company who have responsibility for overseeing the implementation, informing all workers in all production units about the code, in the appropriate language, ensuring their purchasing practices don't prevent the implementation of the code and proper steps for resolving violations of the code if they are uncovered. It is also important that workers are able to report violations of a code of conduct without fear of disciplinary action.

Monitoring is the term used to describe the activities carried out to keep a close watch over implementation - to check that the code is consistently being complied with. One of the main characteristics of monitoring is that it is a frequent or continuous process. In this context “frequently” means that the independent monitoring organisation is present in the workplace often enough to be able to detect variations in behaviour or circumstances.

Independent verification is the only way either companies or consumers can realy be sure what is happening along the supply chain. This verification can only be relied upon if it is done by an organisation operating independently from the company concerned. Many companies get this verification through 3rd party auditors, often large multinational companies who are paid to visit the factories for inspections known as audits. These are not a reliable way of verifying conditions at a factory. The audits are often too short to get a clear picture, are open to fraud and rarely involve workers in ways that allow them to speak openly about the real problems at a factory. Most factories are given advance notice of the auditors’ visit allowing them to coach workers on the right answers and cover up issues that might present a problem. The best checks are done by an organisation that is truly independent (and that isn’t making a large profit from doing the audits) and local to the factory, thereby understanding the context of the audit, prevailing conditions in the industry, able to speak the same language as the workers and able to do regular, unannounced checks.

More information on audits and why they often don't uncover bad working conditions


A code of conduct here refers to a list of labour standards. Those who sign on to codes pledge to adhere to these standards in their workplaces. Some companies have drafted their own codes, campaign groups, trade unions and NGOs have also drafted model codes which they believe are more comprehensive. 

Putting a code of conduct on a website or sending it to consumers is not a guarantee that workers' rights are being respected.This is not to say that codes cannot be useful. They can be used to hold companies to account for conditions in their supply chain and, if workers know about the codes and what they contain and if their is a system in place for them to anonymously report code violations they could be a tool for organising. But many of the codes used by companies have had little impact in challanging violations of workers' rights. Below are examples of the kinds of codes companies use and why they may not be effective.

 1. Codes that are just PR tools

Some company codes do represent a genuine effort to improve conditions, but many are only public relations tools intended to deflect consumer inquiries about workplace conditions. These are likely to have weak or vague standards (see below) have no explanation about who they apply to and how they are implemented, will have no information on how the standards are monitored and verified and the company themselves will offer little explanation about how the code is used beyond expecting their suppliers to comply. Often the only monitoring systems are corporate controlled, with no role for workers or other stakeholder.

2. Codes where the standards are too weak

The guiding principles for acceptable working conditions in the garment industry are comprised of the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and several additional standards. Briefly, these include: freedom of association, right to collective bargaining, no discrimination of any kind, no forced or slave labour, health and safety measures,  a maximum working week of 48 hours and voluntary overtime of maximum 12 hours, the right to a living wage, the establishment of an employment relationship. A good code will include all these elements. Many don’t include either freedom of association, long working hours or living wage and some only talk about child labour, forced labour and safety. Even if codes do include all the above, often the detail is vague or inconsistent. For example a number of companies say ‘workers must be paid a living wage’ but in the detail they equate this to a minimum or industry standard wage, which is not the same thing.

 3. Decent codes that aren't implemented

Even when companies have good codes, for example the base code Ethical Trading Initiative members sign up to, they are not worth much if there aren’t proper procedures in place to implement, monitor and verify these standards. It is not sufficient for the company to just introduce the code and assume that this is enough. Companies have to evaluate whether the code is actually implemented and then monitored by establishing appropriate checks and measures in cases of violation of the code, including accompanying corrective measures. This process is sometimes also called "internal monitoring" or "company monitoring." Of course a company can easily say that there are no labour rights violations. But can we believe them? From the sourcing company's point of view, its more important to re-assure the consumer, than to solve the workers' problem. Therefore, only where verification comes from an organisation operating independently from the company concerned, can it be relied on.

More information on codes of conduct.

Of course it’s true that the cost of living in many countries is much lower than in Britain – that’s why we don't compare our wage levels with workers elsewhere. We do know from our partners around the world that the minimum wage in each country is rarely enough to provide a 'living' wage for workers and many garment workers don't even get paid that. A living wage enables workers to meet their needs for nutritious food and clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport, as well as allowing for a discretionary income. It should be enough to provide for the basic needs of workers and their families, to allow them to participate fully in society and live with dignity. It should take into account the cost of living, social security benefits and the relative standards of other groups. This is what we believe each worker should be able to earn within a normal working week.

More on living wages

It's true that, for many workers, getting a job at a garment or sportswear factory is better than some of the alternatives - that is why so many depend on them. The fact that people are desperate isn't an excuse to exploit them. Workers aren't getting their fair share of the benefits they are creating for the big companies.

We welcome the fact that millions of people are earning a wage. However, this alone is not enough to lift them from poverty if employers can hire and fire at will, deny union rights, pay low wages that drive people to work inhumane hours just to survive, avoid paying sick leave and avoid observing maternity rights. For many workers, these jobs bring hidden yet more devastating costs, such as poor health, exhaustion and broken families, all of which are unacceptable and avoidable. Everyone wants and is entitled to a quality job that pays “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his [or her] family an existence worthy of human dignity." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23(3)).

Yes. It is the task of governments to provide good working conditions and to enforce them. Legislation often does exist, and many garment-producing nations have good labour rights legislation. The problem is that it isn't enforced properly. 

Under pressure from Western governments and international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, developing countries have implemented policies that prioritise the creation of an environment that is attractive to foreign investment. Incentives for foreign investors include not only low wages, but also the suspension of certain workplace and environmental regulations. If a government does attempt to strictly enforce these regulations, it is likely that many investors will quickly pack their bags for another country that is even less strict and is more accommodating. As a result, all these countries compete against one another based on the lure of their bad working conditions – the so called race to the bottom.

It's wrong to assume that governments have absolutely no control over foreign investments: not all companies pack up and leave at the first signs of government regulations. So it is valuable to encourage governments to pressure companies to take responsibility for their labour policies and ensure their compliance. That said, it's also true that a government's power against (large) companies is limited. Bad working conditions are an international problem that will not be solved on a national level alone.

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Labour Behind the Label
The Easton Business Centre
Felix Road Easton
Bristol BS5 0HE

0117 941 5844

Labour Behind the Label is a not-for-profit company Registered in England No. 4173634. Labour Behind the Label's charitable activities are funded by the Labour Behind the Label Trust, registered charity number 1159356.

Labour Behind the Label coordinates
the UK platform of the Clean Clothes Campaign