II. Codes of Conduct in the U.S. Apparel Industry
The United States is the world's largest importer of garments. In 1994, it accounted for 28 percent of world imports of such products.1 The garment industry is a global industry, with American companies importing clothing for the United States market from all over the world. Along with globalization have come increased concerns from companies and consumer, labor and human rights groups regarding the labor conditions under which garments are made. These concerns pertain to health and safety conditions in garment factories, wage and hour issues, trade union rights, and, perhaps most commonly, child labor and forced labor.
In response, many U.S. garment manufacturers and retailers have voluntarily developed codes of conduct, or policy statements, requiring factories with which they do business - in the U.S. and abroad - to meet certain legal and ethical standards. These codes of conduct address a variety of worker rights issues. Provisions prohibiting child labor are one of the most common elements of these codes.
While codes of conduct have been adopted by many companies in the garment industry, they are also a recent phenomenon. A small number of companies in the garment industry first introduced formal codes of conduct in the early 1990s and have been implementing them for several years.2 Most firms, however, have developed codes in the past two or three years.
This chapter will examine the use of codes of conduct by large U.S. importers of garments, specifically with respect to provisions prohibiting the use of child labor in overseas production.3 It will describe the extent to which large U.S. retailers and apparel manufacturers have adopted codes of conduct with provisions on child labor, the content of these codes, and how companies are implementing them.4
Part B of this chapter provides a brief overview of codes of conduct. Part C describes the U.S. garment industry and U.S. imports of garments. Part D explains which apparel manufacturers and retailers were surveyed regarding their importing practices and codes of conduct with respect to child labor. Part E describes the extent, form, content and elements of child labor provisions in garment importers' codes of conduct. Part F describes the various ways in which garment importers implement the child labor provisions of their codes and discusses issues surrounding code implementation.