MSN describes itself as a labour and women's rights organization that supports the efforts of workers in global supply chains to win improved wages and working conditions and a better quality of life.
“Our focus has always been on supporting the efforts of the women and men who make our clothes to organize to improve their wages and working conditions, not on shutting down factories with bad conditions or giving shoppers ethical choices,” Jeffcott said in an open letter to his MSN colleagues. “We've always been more interested in and committed to finding new ways to make corporations more accountable rather than in helping them to better regulate themselves.”
Jeffcott admits that the “harsh reality” of factory conditions has improved little over the past 15 years and that the current financial crisis has undermined what little job security garment workers once enjoyed.
Still, there have been some significant advances over the years related to workers’ rights. “When MSN first became involved in campaigns targeting major apparel brands back in the 1990s, companies like Nike, Gap, Disney and Levi's would often deny that reports of sweatshop abuses were based in fact and/or try to avoid accepting their share of responsibility for the abuses,” Jeffcott writes.
”Today, few major apparel brands are still in the denial stage, and many of these brand-sensitive companies are now willing to sit down and discuss core issues like what steps they should take to ensure that workers' right to organize and bargain collectively is respected. While there are still major hurdles to overcome before the brands' stated commitment to freedom of association becomes reality at the factory level, we've come a long way from the days when they would tell us, "It's not our responsibility."
In 2000, MSN and its partners in Canada's Ethical Trading Action Group (ETAG) launched a national campaign for government regulations that would require companies whose clothes are sold in the Canadian market to publicly disclose the names and addresses of the factories where those products were made.
Apparel retailers and manufacturers fought back, and were able to convince the Canadian government that factory locations were "proprietary information." ETAG then shifted its focus to pressuring individual companies to voluntarily disclose their global supply chains and to lobby public institutions to adopt procurement polices that require, among other things, that suppliers publicly disclose factory locations.
”Today, almost every major sportswear brand publicly discloses their factory locations, and last year, Mountain Equipment Co-op became the first Canadian retailer to voluntarily disclose the names and addresses of the supplier factories where its own-brand products are made,” Jeffcott says.
MSN and ETAG also helped to instigate and provided advice and support to local campaigns lobbying public institutions to adopt "No Sweat" purchasing and licensing policies. Today, 19 Canadian universities, five Canadian municipalities and 11 Ontario Catholic school boards have No Sweat policies.
Jeffcott has also been busy outside of Canada, collaborating with trade unions, women's organizations and labour rights NGOs in garment-producing countries such as El Salvador, Lesotho, Honduras, Guatemala, Thailand, Mexico, Haiti and the Philippines.
”Although some of these struggles were unsuccessful and many of the victories were short-lived, they did achieve important precedents and helped keep alive workers' hope for change. This truly is a global movement against sweatshop abuses and for workers' and women's rights, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.”
For more information, visit the Maquila Solidarity Network website.