American consumers have a long history of acting in support of the
rights of workers who produce the goods they wear and
consume.  From the National Consumers League’s work at the
turn of the 20th century to combat sweatshop abuses and develop a union
label for consumers, to solidarity boycotts of table grapes in support
of California farm workers in the late 1960s and again in the 1980s,
American consumers have time and again demonstrated their commitment to
ethical consumerism.  The 1990s were a decade of student
solidarity with workers in sweatshops throughout the developing world,
as thousands of college students organized on campuses around the
United States to insist that their universities commit to sweatfree
procurement of university-licensed apparel.

In the
1990s many activists in the anti-sweatshop movement throughout North
America and Western Europe focused time and attention on the codes of
conduct and voluntary monitoring initiatives being developed by the
garment and footwear industries and by ‘multi-stakeholder’
groups.  While these initiatives all have their role in
monitoring or otherwise working to improve factory conditions, it is
clear that consumers in the US are ready to support more progressive
and positive approaches.

The trend toward ethical
consumerism is real, well-documented by the media, and supported by
academic research.  In recent months articles have appeared
regularly in the New York Times, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal
and other leading publications highlighting new initiatives directed at
ethical consumers, from the “Edun” clothing brand to the new Red
initiative unveiled at the Davos World Economic Forum meetings in
January 2006.  The Fair Trade certification system has notably
taken advantage of the desire of ethical consumers for better
assurances of fair practices and treatment of those who labor to
produce the goods they consume.

The Designated
Supplier Program was recently developed by university students to
provide assurances to consumers about empowerment and the existence of
a living wage in factories.  Specifically, the Designated
Supplier Program promotes empowered workplaces€Â¹workplaces where workers
enjoy the benefit of a democratic union and the protection of a
negotiated collective bargaining agreement.  Workers
additionally benefit from the assurance that a premium wage will be
paid for the benefit of the assurance of sweatfree conditions in their

Efforts to promote codes of conduct began
in the 1970s.  Revelations of the involvement of International
Telephone and Telegraph and other US corporations in the bloody coup
against the Allende government in Chile in 1973, and of huge bribes
paid by the Lockheed Corporation to Japanese political figures to gain
military contracts in 1975, led to a movement by non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) and governments of developing countries to demand
greater corporate accountability.  In 1975, the United Nations
created a Commission on Transnational Corporations which set out to
negotiate a UN Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations. 
However, during the 1980s, the UN Commission found it impossible to
develop any mechanisms to make this code relevant, or even to research
the level of compliance by companies or countries with the terms of the
codes.  By the end of the decade, the Commission itself was
virtually without funds and unable to carry out even a modicum of its
original mandate.   Under strong pressure from the US
government, it was dismantled in the early

Despite the failure of these attempts,
pressure to create codes to regulate employer behavior worldwide
grew.  During the 1980s, several academics and grassroots
activists investigated and publicized reports of environmental, labor
and land rights abuses by multinational corporations expanding into
developing countries.  By the early 1990s these investigations
had led to public exposes of practices by several US-based
companies.  In 1991 jeans maker Levi-Strauss was revealed to
be using a contractor in the Northern Marianas, where young women from
China and Thailand were being shipped in to work in factories under
near-bonded conditions and denied any access to labor law
protection.   Dismayed by the negative publicity,
Levi-Strauss set out to implement a code of conduct both for its own
operations and for those of its suppliers and contractors. 
This was the first known example of a company code of conduct
adopted as a means to combat both bad conditions and bad
publicity.[1] Shoemakers
Nike International and Reebok International were the subjects
of a series of reports starting in the early 1990s about labor
rights abuses in shoe
production facilities in China and
Southeast Asia.[2] Reebok responded by adopting
the first code of conduct to contain language protecting the rights to
associate freely and bargain collectively.  Walmart was the
subject of a television expose that revealed that garments it retailed
carrying a “Made in USA” label were actually produced with child labor
in Bangladesh.  The National Labor Committee, a US-based
NGO,  found and publicized the fact that the”Kathy Lee” label,
owned by TV personality Kathy Lee Gifford, was being produced in
factories in Honduras employing 13 year-old

Several companies in these industries adopted
voluntary codes of conduct in response to domestic concerns. 
The new movement for corporate-initiated codes has been complemented by
activity in the public domain, to pressure local governments to adopt
selective purchasing laws.  Some entities that serve the
public interest, particularly universities, have been under pressure to
adopt their own codes of conduct.  By the mid-1990s, concerned
activists were raising concerns that these codes were not effectively
being implemented at the factory level.  In response to the
need for verification, a number of new initiatives were
developed.  The best-known of these, the Apparel Industry
Partnership, was initiated by President Bill Clinton in August
1996.  Other initiatives include the Social Accountability
International Program, the Worldwide Reponsible Apparel Production
program, and the Worker Rights Consortium.  Each of these
programs are described below.  New non-profit organizations,
such as Verite, also commenced work during this period to provide
independent monitoring services directly to corporations, and a number
of for-profit accounting firms, including Price Waterhouse, KPMG and
Ernst and Young began to offer labor rights auditing services to their

[1]See Forcese,
Craig, Commerce with Conscience? Human Rights and Corporate
Codes of Conduct, Quebec: International Centre for Human Rights and
Democratic Development,

 [2]See The
Sweatshop Quandary, Washington: Investor Responsibility Research
Center, 1998.