You’d think this is a pretty easy marketing problem to solve: branded goods companies in the developed economies come under fire for poor labor practices in the world’s manufacturing and assembly hubs such as China, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. The routine is now familiar: the press “uncovers” dismal practices and blasts them, consumers are “shocked!, shocked!,” to discover the sweat-shop like conditions, poor worker safety, and/or the use of child labor, and competitors are either eerily silent or protest too much.
The systematic marketing solution is simple: if consumers want to buy (and pay a small premium) for “ethically” manufactured products, they should be able to easily identify such products and distinguish them from those that are not ethically manufactured.
Consumers already rely on certification labels on a host of other issues: Woolmark, intel inside, Fair Trade, non-GMO, Recyclable material, Recycled materials, etc.
Why is there no globally accepted certification based on reasonable and acceptable labor practice standards? Why do consumers not widely use a certified mark to ensure that the products they buy have been made “fairly.” TransFair USA’s Fair Labor seal of approval guarantees fair compensation to garment workers. And it’s a great start. But the need for such a certification is far broader than the apparel industry (the gadget and toy industries could clearly benefit), and compensation is just one aspect of fairness in the transaction.
There is an opportunity for a socially-minded global entrepreneur to build a brand that consumers trust to demonstrate fair worker practices on multiple fronts (including safety, compensation, education and training, health, and so on). Manufacturing plants will find they must have the certification because it becomes a criterion for branded goods companies. For example, HP, Apple, or Mattel would not contract a manufacturing plant (anywhere in the world) that was not certified. And branded goods companies will find they cannot play without a fair-labor certification because end consumers demand it.
Yes, this would raise the costs of the end products. The largest costs would include educating end-consumers to look for and use the certification label, instituting standardized modern work practices at the manufacturing plants, and convincing branded companies to use the certification as a criterion when doing business. But the ultimate success or failure of the certification would still depend on end consumers’ decision to buy (and pay a premium for) the certified products: will they put their money where their outrage is?
But if it is such an easy problem to solve, why has it not been solved?