What are possible solutions for the rep?
A global sourcing representative for a major retail chain travels a good portion of the time, going from country to country to find good potential contractors to produce the lines developed in his company's product development department. The rep has found many of his prospects for contractors in less-developed countries. Many of these countries offer good quality and will produce apparel at costs that are attractive. One of the countries visited is Bangladesh, where, he noticed that some of the workers looked more like children than adults. There has seen no evidence that these young people were held against their will or abused.
The rep learned that members of the U.S. Congress are sensitized to the issue, and several bills have been introduced to regulate the importation of products made by children. The rep agrees that abusive child labor conditions should be eliminated. The rep knows that children generally have no advocates in those situations and are therefore easily exploited. The rep also knows the dire poverty in Bangladesh and the alternative activities for children. The rep agrees that the safe confines of a factory, as unacceptable as that may be too many westerners, might also be safer than dodging in and out of traffic. The rep also knows that far too few schools exist in Bangladesh to believe that all the children denied factory work would be sent off cheerily by their mothers to school each day.
Considering the scenario, it is clear that the Company Representative does not have 100% back up from the government of Bangladesh no matter how many bills have been put in place and no matter the support on the market. The rep also lacks 100% support from the Bangladeshi community because, as they say themselves, there are very few alternatives for the children. The rep suffers a triple blow in that he is now witness to what can be deemed as inhuman and illegal practices of which he has no control.
Since he has a say in the company policy as a representative, the potential solutions are:
- Report in detail the work practices of the Bangladeshi group. This, along with the steps (or lack-thereof) that have been taken to prevent it and the effects that such practices are causing in the market, in society, and in the conscience of factories. This report will PREVENT the company from ever having any dealings with the Bangladeshi work force and will supply the evidence that may be needed to support this business decision.
- Concentrate on the company, and not on the social problem- for now. It is true that the practice is inhumane, illegal, and problematic particularly for the Western world. Yet, there are social situations that a company cannot resolve and that, realistically, may never be resolved. If the rep avidly suggest boycotting, or refusing service, from the Bangladesh group a message may start floating around the market regarding their workforce practices. Unfortunately, the rep is not representing the UNO, nor UNICEF: the rep is representing a money making corporation which would be better off if they back off social concerns and concentrate in fair and productive practices. This does not ignore the problem because you are giving measures to adopt a policy of rejection of Bangladeshi products made by children.
- Finally, the company may use this policy to promote itself as a humane and children-caring corporation. This would be premium self-promotion as a way to market the good business practices of the corporation while promoting how the company works against child exploitation. This also may help expose the workforces that go against the company policy of child abuse and may even open the door to productive social change. In term, the mission of the corporation may be re-visited and re-worded to support this practice.