Big business has come out against a bill in the California legislature that would require them to disclose publicly how labor practices are managed by the corporation. Marc Lifsher of the LA Times writes:
A bill by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) would require retailers and manufacturers with annual revenue of at least $100 million to post on the Internet what they’re doing â€” or not doing â€” to ensure that no one in their supply chain violates human rights…The bill would require companies to reveal publicly whether they hire outside experts to check suppliers’ labor practices, whether they conduct independent and unannounced audits of suppliers and whether suppliers certify that raw materials are processed in accordance with local and international labor and safety laws.
The arguments offered by representatives of these businesses are absurd:
But major statewide business groups oppose any state mandate that could make them the target of government enforcement actions and resulting bad press.
“These are the kinds of issues that create great consternation for my companies, which spend a lot of time worrying about their image,” said Dorothy Rothrock, a vice president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn.
If this bill is passed, it will be easier for the government to take action against businesses that use slave labor. Their argument: This will result in bad press because people will know we use slave labor. My solution: Stop using slave labor, and nobody will prosecute your company for using slave labor.
Vice President of the California Chamber of Commerce, Marc Bugat, essentially repeats the same argument:
Most California companies, he said, are being asked “to do things they are simply unable to do â€” to assure everything in the product chain down to raw materials is free from slave labor.”
Any retailer or manufacturer that states on its home page that it’s doing little or nothing to check on its suppliers could expect to get bad press, Burgat warned, while companies that fail to report at all could be hit with an injunction from the state attorney general’s office.
“There’s no defense in the eye of the public for being investigated by the AG for slavery and human trafficking in the 21st century,” he said.
Bugat is essentially saying it would be an unreasonable burden in this day and age for a corporation with a revenue of $100m to make sure it doesn’t use slave labor. To illustrate how absurd of an argument this is, it bears repeating: It is unreasonable to expect a massive corporation to assure us that it is not using slave labor to make its products.
His other argument is that a company will receive bad press if the public finds out they aren’t doing anything to make sure slave labor isn’t being used. Simply put, his problem is that people will stop buying the company’s products if they find out slave labor is used. My radical 21st century solution: Stop using slave labor.
What are the business groups alternatives to the bill to help stop unfair labor practices? Well, here:
Business groups are hoping to alter Steinberg’s bill substantially to make its provisions voluntary or at least to define more specifically which companies would be affected.
Making the bill voluntary is no different from the status quo. Essentially, business groups are happy with the status quo in which the public is unaware whether they use slave labor or not. And only 3.2% of businesses will be affected by this bill as is so to make it more specific would make it useless.
Some on the right will inevitably call this bill anti-business, but a fairer term would be pro-human. Human rights should not be pushed aside for the sake of money.