Current Research Projects

We plan to follow a collaborative research strategy, involving researchers from Cornell and other universities, working together with stakeholders. Our research will inform the structured new conversations amongst multiple stakeholders, and working groups, led by members of our advisory board. Currently, we envisage the following research projects:

1) Sourcing, Leverage, and Labor Standards

The key question this projects seeks to answer is whether labor practices in supplier factories are better when a given brand (buyer) accounts for a significant proportion of the factory's production. Based on previously unavailable data from one brand, we examine the relationship between this form of leverage and labor practices over time and across countries.

2) Buyer-Supplier Relations and Sustainable Wages in Supply Chains

In this project, we seek to answer a series of important questions with regard to wages. These include:  How are changes in labor costs negotiated, shared, and/or offset between suppliers and buyers?  How do suppliers, unions, and buyers ‘make room’ over time for higher labor costs? Is there an efficiency wage effect? How has rising compensation in strategic suppliers affected worker turnover, worker productivity, the longevity of buyer relationships, and compensation in competitor factories? How do buyer-supplier discussions over changes in labor costs differ from negotiations over other changes in purchasing costs--e.g. energy, materials, new production processes, and equipment or other capital investments? What buyer and supplier mechanisms ensure that there is progress towards fair compensation and that higher compensation is transmitted to workers? How do multiple buyers with a shared single supplier ensure fair compensation to workers? These studies will commence in January at a number of global Brands and their supplier factories.  

3) Evaluation of Living Wage experiments in Global Supply Chains

The purpose of this research project is to evaluate the compensation impacts of the living wage strategy piloted in two supplier factories in India and the USA.  In addition to measures of impact for workers, the goal of the study is to identify key lessons, compare the process and results, in order to assess the potential for scaling up throughout the supply chain.

4) Research on “Better Work” Cambodia

The Better Work program offers an innovative alternative to improving working conditions in developing country apparel factories.  By combining stakeholder involvement, detailed assessments, and supportive services, the Better Work program has been associated with improvements in aggregate working conditions. In this project, the relationship between participation in Better Work and measures of factory-level compliance is examined. In addition the relationship between various aspects of better work and worker perceptions of working conditions is examined.

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5)  Monitoring the Bangladesh Accord and Alliance

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh signed in May 2013 is a five year independent, legally binding agreement between global brands and retailers and trade unions designed to build a safe and healthy Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment (RMG) Industry. The agreement consists of six key components: The Accord has an independent inspection program supported by brands in which workers and trade unions are involved, involves the public disclosure of all factories, inspection reports and corrective action plans (CAP), includes a commitment by signatory brands to ensure sufficient funds are available for remediation and to maintain sourcing relationships, and mandates democratically elected health and safety committees in all factories to identify and act on health and safety risks. This is clearly a landmark effort and our ongoing research seeks to examine the process and to identify roadblocks and enabling and facilitating conditions that make the implementation of a program like this successful.

The Alliance, in contrast adopts a different approach where safety standards are specified, assessments are undertaken by qualified engineers who are paid by the brands, workers and trade unions are involved during the assessments and factory owners are held accountable for remediation and reporting on the results of such remediation. Here too, the goal of our research efforts is to evaluate the effectiveness of such approaches over a longer period.

6) Analysis Wage Data

Working with the C&A Foundation and the FLA, we will analyze wage data collected through mobile phone platforms directly from workers in global supply chains to help create an independent database of workers earnings in global supply chains in the garment industry.