Monitoring Factories Around the Globe: The Fair Labor Association and the Worker Rights Consortium
In 1999, the nonprofit Fair Labor Association (FLA) was launched to monitor factories around the world for sweatshop-related infractions. Another key nonprofit player, the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), was launched in 2000. The two organizations had similar goals, but very different histories, strategies, and ways of operating. One major difference was that the FLA board included corporations, while the WRC board contained no industry representatives, but only representatives from the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), member universities, and labor-allied NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Mission-wise, the FLA focused on all apparel, while the WRC only focused on apparel bearing college and university names and logos. The fact that the FLA included company/industry representatives on its policy-making board, and the WRC did not, created not merely a difference but a source of immediate disagreement and conflict. By 2008, the WRC had grown from a membership of 44 colleges and universities at its founding to 174, and the FLA had grown from 100 colleges and universities to 205. Although the two organizations had often been closely associated together, appearing on panels, and even occasionally collaborating, their shared history had been controversial and tumultuous. Among the issues under continuing dispute were the role of third-party labor unions (which were not allowed by the government in countries such as China and Vietnam), the problem of “living wages” (which would raise production costs considerably), allegations voiced on the website “FLA Watch” (which seemed to many to be one-sided and unfair), and the overall impact of the anti-sweatshop movement’s efforts (which led some to question how much progress had been made).