California companies seek to keep unfair labor practices secret

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 — or not doing — 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 — 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.

  4 comments for “California companies seek to keep unfair labor practices secret

  1. August 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    The American System of Economics’ Battle Against the British Free Trade System
    Please visit click “Search”, enter “free trade.”

    Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is a demagogue. He needs to join with LaRouche and battle against “Free” Trade. Under the “Free” Trade system other countries become America’s source of cheap (slave) labor and/or raw materials. Completely sovereign nations ‘protect the general welfare’ of their citizens by protecting the nation’s economy from “Free” Trade. Only a completely sovereign nation can ‘protect the general welfare’ of its citizens.

    Traitors, (Internationalists), pass NAFTA and support other international organizations. Remember: the Republican Bush 41 signed the NAFTA agreement; the Democrat Bill Clinton pushed it through Congress, and President Bush 43 and Obama are expanding NAFTA into the North American Union, (the merger of Canada, USA, and Mexico).

    Suppose you were the President of XYZ Company and learned that one of your suppliers in China was using slave labor. What are you going to do? Tell China to behave?

  2. Randall
    August 17, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Just another reason for companies to move outside California and take jobs with them. Clearly some companies, such a retailers, can’t move but many others have and will continue to do so.

  3. kee da peace
    August 18, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    So, what you are saying is, it is ok to use slave labor. By that standard it must also be ok for companies to pollute drinking water or use substandard materials if they choose. If the past 20 years has shown us anything, it is that private industry cannot be trusted to police itself. Look at the mortgage industry. Look at the healthcare industry. Look at the fact that every civilized country has reasonable regulations to hold business accountable. That’s why business seeks to manufacture in third world countries like China and South America. When was the last time a business left California to go to Canada or Europe? Could it be because those countries also have reasonable regulations to guard their citizens?

  4. pauline
    August 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Does anyone know what companies specifically are speaking out agains this proposed bill???

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