Fair Labor Association

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The Fair Labor Association (FLA) is a non-profit collaborative effort of universities, civil society organizations, and businesses. It describes its mission as promoting adherence to international and national labor laws. The FLA was established in 1999 and evolved out of a task force created by President Bill Clinton following a series of child labor and other sweatshop scandals involving major apparel and footwear brands. From 2001 to 2013, Auret van Heerden was the President and CEO of the FLA.[1] Since 2015, the FLA has been led by Sharon Waxman, previously the Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and formerly the Senior National Security Advisor to U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).[2] The FLA has been subject to criticism owing to comments by former president van Heerden praising the labor conditions at Foxconn, a supplier of Apple iPads in China, made shortly after Apple became a paying corporate member of the FLA.

Monitoring and verification[edit]

Companies that join the FLA commit to upholding the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct, which is based on International Labour Organization standards, and to establishing internal systems for monitoring workplace conditions and maintaining code standards throughout their supply chains. The FLA conducts independent and unannounced audits of factories used by FLA affiliates to evaluate compliance of all code elements and verify companies' internal compliance efforts.[3]

The FLA monitors factories all over the world, including: the Americas; Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA); South Asia; South East Asia; and East Asia. There are currently over 4,500 facilities subject to FLA independent monitoring. On average, FLA accredited monitors conduct approximately 150 proactive, announced assessments and verification visits per year. FLA affiliates are responsible for working with the facilities following an inspection to develop a corrective action plan (CAP) to address any violations of the code and for conducting follow-up visits to ensure the plan is implemented. The FLA also conducts follow-up visits for a select group of audits to verify the actions taken by the FLA affiliate and supplier.[4]

The FLA external monitoring system promotes transparency. The FLA posts the results of factory audits on its website, as well as the actions plans that FLA-affiliated companies develop with their suppliers to correct any issues that are found.[5]

The FLA also promotes a complaint channel for third parties in cases where there is a persistent or serious labor violation in a production facility used by any FLA-affiliated company, and where other grievance mechanisms or lack of procedures have failed workers. Any person, organization, or company may file a complaint with the FLA, as all stakeholders have a role in improving corporate accountability for labor rights. When merited, the FLA oversees investigations and corrective action for any violations found.[6]

FLA affiliates[edit]

FLA affiliates are partners in implementing the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct and developing and sharing best practices in labor compliance globally. FLA-affiliated companies represent a large spectrum of industry. The overwhelming majority of factories the FLA audits are in the apparel sector (approximately 75%), followed by footwear, equipment, and accessories. Other industries represented in the FLA supplier database include collectibles, jewelry, hosiery, paper products, home goods, electronic products, and bags. FLA-affiliated companies fall under different categories: Participating Company, Participating Supplier, Category B Collegiate Licensee, Category C Collegiate Licensee, or Category D Collegiate Licensee. Participating Companies and Participating Suppliers submit their entire supply chain to the FLA independent external monitoring process and commit to a range of obligations as affiliates of the FLA.[4]

The human and labor rights violations in domestic and overseas supply chains that surfaced in the mid-1990s were brought to the forefront on university and college campuses by student activists and national human rights groups. In response, universities joined companies and civil society organizations, including trade unions, in opposition to sweatshop labor. There are currently 208 colleges and universities that are affiliated with the FLA. Over 2,000 collegiate licensees that produce products for these institutions have joined the FLA. These licensees are required to disclose the names of facilities producing collegiate products and to uphold the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct in these facilities. High-revenue licensees and those with substantial overseas suppliers must submit their facilities to the FLA independent external monitoring process as well.[7]

FLA accreditation of labor compliance programs[edit]

Accreditation by the Fair Labor Association is the most advanced recognition of a company’s labor compliance program. Participating Companies whose labor compliance programs have been accredited have demonstrated substantial compliance with the Workplace Code of Conduct throughout their supply chain. They have undergone over a two- to three-year implementation period extensive performance reviews, including independent factory monitoring, verification of remediation initiatives, and a thorough evaluation of their internal protocols and auditing, as well as extensive training through the FLA.

The Board of Directors must vote to accredit the labor compliance programs of Participating Companies. As of 2014, the FLA Board had accredited the labor compliance programs of Patagonia, New Balance, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Phillips-Van Heusen, Knights Apparel, Esquel Group, and others.[8]

Support for the FLA initiative[edit]

In his opening remarks to the Voluntary Principles Plenary in Oslo, UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights John Ruggie held up the FLA as a model multi-stakeholder initiative: "The gold standard among voluntary initiatives, I think, is the Fair Labor Association. It leads the way precisely because its Secretariat is encouraged and even mandated to cast a critical eye on performance and to recommend practical innovations—to stay focused like a laser on the effectiveness and legitimacy of the effort as a whole."[9]

Writing for MarketWatch in March of 2017, Casey O'Connor and Sarah Labowitz of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights recognized the FLA's "sound model for developing and monitoring labor standards in the apparel industry" as an example for other organizations to follow in reporting on social responsibility indicators of interest to impact investors.[10]


The United Students Against Sweatshops, have stated that the FLA has "... a weak code that fails to provide for women's rights, a living wage, the full public disclosure of factory locations, or university control over the monitoring process."[11] WAAKE-UP! was also critical of the Fair Labor Association as much of its funding comes from organizations it monitors, creating a potential conflict of interest.[12][13] The organization FLA Watch monitors the Fair Labor Association.[14]

On January 25, 2012, the New York Times published an extensive exposé of labor conditions at a supplier factory for Apple iPads in China called Foxconn.[15] The report documented widespread violations of worker rights, including the use of excessive overtime, crowded dorms, and the use of poisonous chemicals causing worker fatalities.[15] At least 19 Foxconn workers have attempted suicide or fell from buildings in manners that suggested suicide attempts.[15]

Shortly before the publication of the New York Times story on Foxconn, on January 13, 2012, Apple became a dues paying corporate member of the FLA. The amount Apple pays the FLA in dues is not public information. Publicly available records indicate that the FLA's president and CEO Auret van Heerden has an annual base salary of $259,359.00.[16]

On February 16, 2012, after taking a guided tour of Foxconn, FLA CEO Auret van Heerden said, "The facilities are first-class; the physical conditions are way, way above average of the norm." [17] Mr. Van Heerden is also reported as saying “Foxconn is really not a sweatshop.” [18] and “Workers are very outspoken and they’re not intimidated at all.” [18]

Mr. van Heerden's praise of Foxconn's labor conditions were widely criticized. The New York Times noted that "Mr. van Heerden’s apparent praise of conditions at Foxconn came despite previous reports of employees committing suicide, dying in factory explosions and complaining of sometimes working more than 70 hours a week."[18]

Worker Rights Consortium executive director Scott Nova said, "Generally, in a labor rights investigation, the findings come after the evidence is gathered, not the other way around. I'm amazed that the FLA would give one of the most notoriously abusive factories in the world a clean bill of health—based, it appears, on nothing more than a guided tour provided by the owner." [19]

Heather White, the founder of monitoring group Verite, said about Van Heerden’s remarks: “That he would make any comments prior to workers being interviewed off-site in a confidential environment is somewhat premature, to say the least. He doesn’t speak Chinese and he is not a trained auditor qualified to make quick assessments.” [18]

Mr. van Heerden also explained the rash of suicides at Foxconn as follows: ""I was very surprised when I walked onto the floor at Foxconn, how tranquil it is compared with a garment factory," he said. "So the problems are not the intensity and burnout and pressure-cooker environment you have in a garment factory. It's more a function of monotony, of boredom, of alienation perhaps."[20]

Teresa Cheng, an international campaigns coordinator for United Students Against Sweatshops, was angered by Heerdeen's comments. "Mr. van Heerden's comments are outrageous and shocking, even to those of us who have been monitoring the FLA's irresponsible reporting for years," she told Fox News. "Attributing the suicides of sweatshop workers who make iPhones to mere boredom is insulting and the FLA's most creative argument to date for defending its corporate funders."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fair Labor Association (2008). "FLA History". Archived from the original on 2009-03-02. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  2. ^ "Sharon Waxman | The ILR School | Cornell University". www.ilr.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2017-08-01.
  3. ^ Fair Labor Association (2009). "FLA Monitoring". Archived from the original on 2010-04-02. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  4. ^ a b Fair Labor Association (2009). "FLA 2008 Annual Report". Archived from the original on 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  5. ^ Fair Labor Association (2009). "FLA Public Reporting". Archived from the original on 2009-06-15. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  6. ^ Fair Labor Association (2009). "FLA Complaint Channel". Archived from the original on 2009-06-16. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  7. ^ Fair Labor Association (2009). "FLA Collegiate Licensees". Archived from the original on 2009-12-17. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  8. ^ Fair Labor Association (2009). "FLA Accreditation". Archived from the original on 2010-01-08. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  9. ^ Business and Human Rights Resource Center (2009). "Ruggie Message at VPs Plenary". Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  10. ^ Labowitz, Casey O’Connor , Sarah. "Investors need better ways to find companies making a difference". MarketWatch. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
  11. ^ "Who is the Fair Labor Association?". 2009-03-02. Archived from the original on 2009-03-02. Retrieved 2007-09-29.
  12. ^ Terje Langeland (2000-04-14). "Progress made on students' demands: WAAKE-UP! meets with CU on code of conduct". Colorado Daily. Archived from the original on January 16, 2004. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
  13. ^ "Task force discusses sweatshop labor". Daily Camera. 2000-04-14. Archived from the original on January 16, 2004. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
  14. ^ "FLA Watch". Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  15. ^ a b c DUHIGG, CHARLES (January 25, 2012). "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad". New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  16. ^ "FLA Form 990 (2010)". Guidestar.
  17. ^ "Apple iPad plant conditions better than the norm: agency". Reuters. 2012-02-15.
  18. ^ a b c d Greenhouse, Steven (2012-02-16). "Early Praise in Foxconn Inspection Brings Doubt". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Poeter, Damon (2012-02-16). "Backlash Against FLA Head's Early Praise for Foxconn, Apple". PC Magazine.
  20. ^ a b Madenga, Florence (2012-02-16). "Fair Labor Association: 'Boredom' Caused Apple Factory Suicides?". International Business Times.

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