Governments must take an active role in ensuring factory safety and the issue cannot be left to companies alone, according to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In a statement this week MIT political scientist Richard Locke said after travelling to factories around the world for over ten years, he was convinced that private regulations were not enough to ensure safety.
Locke said for years he thought private policing, where large firms withhold business from poor suppliers, was the key to securing factory conditions, particularly in less developed parts of the world.
But he said his view had changed in recent years, and research found that private companies could not eliminate workplace dangers and poor conditions by themselves.
“The dominant approach to trying to fix these issues, the private-compliance approach, didn’t work, systematically,” he said.
“It’s better than nothing, but it wasn’t leading to a significant and sustained improvement in working conditions or enforcement of labor rights in any of the supply chains that we studied.”
In a new book published this month, Locke said he had drawn up a new plan where governments and the private sector work together to improve factory conditions.
“The private sector can only do so much, and certain issues are issues of citizenship rights, such as the freedom of association, and the freedom to bargain collectively,” he said.
“You can’t enforce those rights one factory at a time or one supply chain at a time, or even one brand at a time. Those are territorially enforced rights, and only the sovereign states can do that.”
Locke's research draws on engagement with Nike, Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, and other major brands, and data has been collected from thousands of suppliers and factories in more than 50 countries.