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The first full-scale overview of sweatshop monitoring

Monitoring Sweatshops

Workers, Consumers, and the Global Apparel Industry

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Jill Esbenshade

"A important and timely study that demonstrates that voluntary, corporate-sponsored monitoring is no substitute for independent accountability through government regulation and a free labor movement. Especially in an era of globalization and outsourcing of jobs, it is more imperative than ever that monitoring be credible and that consumers be attuned to the conditions under which products are manufactured if the social contract and economic justice are to be preserved. Oversight, whether by concerned industries or benevolent government, will not achieve sustained improvements in working conditions in the absence of free unions organized by employees to safeguard their own rights."
U.S. Congressman George Miller, Senior Democrat, Committee on Education & the Workforce

Monitoring Sweatshops offers the first comprehensive assessment of efforts to address and improve conditions in garment factories. Jill Esbenshade describes the government's efforts to persuade retailers and clothing companies to participate in private monitoring programs. She shows the different approaches to monitoring that firms have taken, and the variety of private monitors employed, from large accounting companies to local non-profits. Esbenshade also shows how the efforts of the anti-sweatshop movement have forced companies to employ monitors overseas as well.

When monitoring is understood as the result of the withdrawal of governments from enforcing labor standards as well as the weakening of labor unions, it becomes clear that the United States is experiencing a shift from a social contract between workers, businesses, and government to one that Jill Esbenshade calls the social responsibility contract. She illustrates this by presenting the recent history of monitoring, with considerable attention to the most thorough of the Department of Labor's programs, the one in Los Angeles. Esbenshade also explains the maze of alternative approaches being employed worldwide to decide the questions of what should be monitored and by whom.

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction and an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"When clothing companies tried to shed the 'sweatshop' moniker by writing a Code of Conduct and hiring their own monitors to check factory conditions, few were better placed than academic/activist Jill Esbenshade to provide a critique. Monitoring Sweatshops is a fascinating look at companies' attempts to silence their critics, workers' efforts to improve their conditions, activists' campaigns to pressure the companies, and the public's desire to be responsible consumers. Monitoring Sweatshops is the best analysis to date of monitoring that is designed to placate consumers and maintain the status quo. Anyone concerned about the conditions under which our clothes are made should read this book."
Medea Benjamin, Founding Director, Global Exchange

"This book is a richly detailed, first-hand account of the rise of private monitoring in the global apparel industry. Esbenshade dissects the power relationships and conflicts of interest within the monitoring paradigm, and presents the challenging conclusion that without greater involvement by workers themselves, international monitoring cannot effectively address the sweatshop problem. Monitoring Sweatshops is a must read for anyone who hopes to understand and change the contemporary global production system."
Gary Gereffi, Duke University

"Jill Esbenshade's clear, careful and insightful Monitoring Sweatshops exposes the inadequacy of corporations' claims that they are holding their subcontractors to voluntary 'codes of conduct.' ...As the first serious effort to gather and analyze evidence about new approaches to industrial regulation, Monitoring Sweatshops makes a significant contribution to our understanding of globalization, and to continuing efforts to shape globalization in ways that will benefit workers as well as consumers."
Industrial and Labor Relations Review

"In this important book, Jill Esbenshade skillfully pieces together a mass of evidence that challenges the wisdom and effectiveness of private monitoring as practiced in the global apparel industry.... This is an ambitious book that draws on rich interview data and case study materials to weave together a complex story of the various corporate, grass roots, and worker efforts to police and abusive industry. It succeeds on all fronts. It should be of interest to students of social movements, stratification, and labor, and for those who are concerned about how their clothes are made."
Mobilization

"Esbenshade has critical insight into the sociological difference between labor law enforcement and corporate code compliance monitoring..."
Social Forces

"Esbenshade brilliantly explains the emerging system of labor relations in the highly-globalized apparel industry, analyzes the weakness of the industry's preferred approach, and offers an alternative way to combat sweatshop production.... Monitoring Sweatshops is one of the few works to seriously and systematically address the issue of monitoring as a means of combating sweatshops. This is a must-read book.... It should also be taken seriously by the growing number of firms that are placing increasing reliance on a system of monitoring that is fundamentally flawed."
Contemporary Sociology

"Monitoring Sweatshops critically assesses the global regulatory regime that emerged to fight the sweatshop.... Esbenshade clearly summarizes the social compact that emerged from garment unionization and the growth of the welfare state during the first half of the twentieth century."
National Women's Studies Association Journal

"Jill Esbenshade's Monitoring Sweatshops presents the best empirical overview to date of what watchful monitoring can do and has accomplished.... Esbenshade marshals many well-documented examples."
International Labour Review

'[Esbenshade] has an insiderís knowledge of the subject that comes not only from years of research, but also from years of engagement with apparel workers and the NGOs and unions that represent their interests....[She] systematically dissects monitoring efforts both inside and outside the United States."
New Labor Forum

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Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Monitoring, Sweatshops, and Labor Relations
1. The Rise and Fall of the Social Contract in the Apparel Industry
2. The Social-Accountability Contract
3. Private Monitoring in Practice
4. Weaknesses and Conflicts in Private Monitoring
5. The Development of International Monitoring
6. Examining International Codes of Conduct and Monitoring Efforts
7. The Struggle for Independent Monitoring
Conclusion: Workers, Consumers, and Independent Monitoring
Appendix 1: Confessions of a Sweatshop Monitor by Joshua Samuel Brown
Appendix 2: Research Methods
Appendix 3: List of Interviews
Appendix 4: Acronyms and Abbreviations
Notes
References
Index

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About the Author(s)

Jill Esbenshade is Assistant Professor of Sociology at San Diego State University.

Subject Categories

Labor Studies and Work
Sociology
Political Science and Public Policy

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