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WELCOME TO THE ARCHIVE (1994-2014) OF THE MAQUILA SOLIDARITY NETWORK. For current information on our ongoing work on the living wage, women's labour rights, freedom of association, corporate accountability and Bangladesh fire and safety, please visit our new website, launched in October, 2015: www.maquilasolidarity.org

Discount Chains: Low prices at any cost?

A major challenge for the labour rights and corporate accountability movements is the growing power and influence of one-stop discount retailers like Wal-Mart. These multi-national discount chains are not only changing the face of the apparel and retail industries, they are impacting on North American and European economies and societies as a whole.

Because Wal-Mart and other retailers regularly push their suppliers to reduce prices, the thousands of suppliers who need to tap into those markets are forced to find ways to cut costs year after year. In that environment, compliance with basic labour rights falls by the wayside as suppliers scramble to find the cheapest production possible.

These purchasing practices, designed to maximize profits and transfer the risk down the supply-chain, include:

  1. unstable relationships between buyers and suppliers, which means that suppliers that try to improve conditions -- or factories in which workers organize to improve conditions -- have no guarantee that their factory will continue to receive orders from buyers;
  2. falling prices, which limit the ability to pay workers a living wage and make other improvements; and
  3. ever shorter delivery lead times, rush orders, last-minute changes, and abrupt order cancellations, all of which contribute to factories requiring illegal overtime hours, subcontracting and informalization of labour.

While brand campaigns have achieved some successes in pushing industry leaders to be more transparent and accountable, the anti-sweatshop movement must begin to address the issue of corporate accountability for massive one-stop retailers, or see our impact restricted to boutiques or higher-end companies while the vast majority of production is unaffected and labour conditions worsen globally. As a movement, we need to move toward industry-wide solutions, in the context of a rapidly changing environment.

 

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