Last year saw Apple forced to address the ugly consequences of working practices down its supply chain at Foxconn manufacturing sites in China which had led to worker suicides. Now Walmart faces criticisms over its lack of controls over a supplier in The Tazreen fashions plant in Bangladesh whose factory fire at resulted in the death of over a hundred employees. The plant had failed safety inspections in 2011 and earlier in 2012. According to the New York Times, Walmart faces the dilemma of seeking the lowest prices from suppliers globally to deliver low price products while projecting a corporate image of high ethical standards and corporate social responsibility. In December , Walmart’s CEO Michael T. Duke faced angry protesters in New York, at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting According to the New York Times:
Mr. Duke’s reassurances that Walmart enforces high standards in the global clothing industry appear to be contradicted by inspection reports it requested and some of Walmart’s own internal communications. Just two weeks before, a top Walmart executive acknowledged in an e-mail to a group of retailers that the industry’s safety monitoring system was seriously flawed. “Fire and electrical safety aspects are not currently adequately covered in ethical sourcing audits,” Rajan Kamalanathan, the executive, wrote to other board members of the Global Social Compliance Program, a business-led group focused on improving the supply chain. But even as the deadly Nov. 24 fire at the Tazreen factory has stirred soul-searching inside and outside the apparel industry about the effectiveness of its global factory monitoring system, some nonprofit groups say Walmart has shown little interest in changing the existing practice of demanding that the factories, often operating at razor-thin margins, meet fire safety standards at their own cost.
The evils of globalization?
The tragic fire in Tazreen, and the suicides at Foxconn factories, are seen by some as evidence of the evils of the globalization and the workings of supply chains. Others argue that the examples are flaws that can be put right in a system that is helping in the development and economic health of emerging nations. Neither argument is adequate of itself. The rhetoric of corporate social responsibility too often appears to speak more of espoused beliefs than of leadership actions.
If I ruled the [Walmart] world …
“What if I were leader of the Walmart world?” One answer: I would become head of the great modern day church that provideth food to all its followers. And the followers find that the food is always good. Nor is the tithe too high a change. Should I listen to those who say that the good food and low tithes are through the labours of slaves who are not welcome in the churches of Walmark? Such a leader would need a new vision.
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Monday 3rd November 2014
Walmart rethinks its global strategy. Cuts back its Japanese operations
Tuesday 27th January 2015
Zero-hour contracts have become a trending issue as companies such as McDonalds balance efficiency against corporate social responsibilities
As happens, one firm is picked on in the media to illustrate a broader issue. In the case of zero-hours contracts, this week [August 2013] the firm is McDonalds.
The article in The Independent notes:
McDonald’s has admitted 90 per cent of its UK employees are on zero-hours contracts. The admission indicates the fast-food chain is potentially the largest zero-hours employer in the UK’s private sector, with 82,800 contracted staff not guaranteed work or a stable income.
The controversial practice requires employees to be available for work when it is required but, as they are contracted for 0 hours a week, employers are under no obligation to use them or pay them a set wage. This allows businesses not to pay staff during quiet periods, but ensures they are available to work at short notice when required.
UK Politicians have reacted to McDonald’s admission by calling for it to offer affected staff a new contract with a minimum hours guarantee.
The concept of a zero-hours contract appeals as an efficiency device. Organizations are able to pick and choose workers and avoid paying for slack times. Indeed, the notion of slack is worth considering. Economists have argued that slack is unproductive time, the enemy of efficiency. Innovation theorists in contrast have argued that slack time is vital for innovation. How can an organization develop a creative culture without time to ‘play with the future’. The appeal of Taylorism is that slack-time is reduced, even eliminated, in theory. Fordism, became its exemplar. Thus, modern management from its inception may be seen as approving the principle of zero-hours contracts.
From a different perspective
From a different perspective, behavioural scientists have long concluded that worker dissatisfaction eventually contributes to other losses in productivity through demotivated workers, militancy, and an increased tendency towards that economic sin, free-riding or exploiting fellow-workers to minimize personal effort.
Zero-hours contracts became politically interesting in the UK this year  as a survey by The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development claimed that a million workers, around four percent of the working population could have such working arrangements.
Interesting, the practice is more common in the voluntary and public sectors than in private industry.
Zero-hours contracts were initially introduced in hotels, restaurants and shops, but their use has spread to the public sector because of spending cuts. The number has reached almost 100,000 in the National Health Service, while new figures show more than 270 government staff are on such contracts. Unison, Britain’s second biggest union, called for them to be outlawed. Its general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice. They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain. Not knowing from week to week what money you have coming in to buy food and pay your bills is extremely nerve-wracking.”
Good or bad for workers?
It has been argued that the arrangement suits some individuals. I am less convinced the argument can be extended, as it has become, to entire categories such as students.
Good or bad for employers?
The greater enthusiasm shown in the public sector figures suggests that private organizations are more cautious about the arrangements. I found this unexpected at first sight. Are for-profit outfits more concerned about their workers? Or might it be they are more aware of hidden responsibilities owed to the zero-hours employees, yet to be tested in law.