To culminate the weeklong Fair Globalization Symposium sponsored by the College’s International Studies Department, speaker Alice Tepper Marlin, president of Social Accountability International (SAI), lectured on how globalization impacts foreign countries last week.
Marlin, who is an adjunct professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, founded SAI in 1996 with a mission to end the cycle of poverty that affects the working poor worldwide.
SAI, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization, developed the Social Accountability 8000 (SA8000), a standard for workplaces to uphold. The standard is voluntary for corporations and covers issues dealing with workplace environment, worker benefits, child labor laws and wages. Companies that have implemented the SA8000 standard include Nike and Del Monte.
After working with an advisory board consisting of representatives from nonprofit organizations and companies such as the Gap, Toys R’ Us and Chiquita, Marlin devised a commitment for achieving goals through SAI. The commitment stresses three points: improvement of working conditions, practical outcomes and timely results.
“Today’s marketplace is global,” Marlin said. “People are turning shopping carts into vehicles for social change.”
Prior to the 1990s, Marlin explained, many issues regarding workplace conditions were kept within the country. However, with the expanding global market came expanding consumer concerns.
By using the 2004 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study to illustrate how 85 percent of consumers care about a positive company image, Marlin explained how modern consumers not only shop for product quality, but “for a better world” as well. Because of the rise in consumer concerns, companies began using organizations such as SAI to ensure fair treatment of their overseas factories and employees.
Erica Sibley, freshman psychology major, said, “The idea of global labor standards is more important to the labor market than we in middle-class America often think about.”
Through using various approved auditing organizations, SAI makes sure that workplaces are kept up to SA8000 standards. Inspections and assessments are made by professionally trained auditors in regular intervals or when a complaint is filed. Auditors must fulfill certain requirements including the ability to speak the native language of the workers, knowledge of labor laws, impartiality and a pledge of confidentiality of the workers.
Once a company has met the SA8000 standard, it gains official SAI certification. There are currently 577 facilities certified by SA8000, which also encompasses over 363,000 workers in 45 countries.
When asked to give an example of SAI making a difference, Marlin replied with a scenario in Thailand. Several years ago, SAI received a complaint that employees were working 84 hours a week without overtime benefits. SAI successfully negotiated to reduce the workweek from 84 to 60 hours without hurting their pay and secured them overtime benefits.
Alanna Jamieson, freshman open options major, recognized the importance of having organizations like SAI uphold these standards. “It’s good to see that there are organizations out there that look out for the global working class,” she said.