Global Labor Practices

Supply chain research by faculty and students a thrust of new initiative
Friday, March 13, 2015

ILR’s new Project on Sustainable Labor Practices focuses on developing innovative, long-term strategies for improving labor practices in global supply chains.

The project will carry out research and engage stakeholders from global firms, suppliers, labor unions and civil society groups, along with ILR students and faculty.

Kevin Hallock, the Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and Joseph R. Rich ’80 Professor, said in announcing the project today, “Teaching and research interests of a number of ILR faculty are related to many issues associated with this initiative, and our students have shown both interest and concern with regard to labor practices in global supply chains.”

ILR Associate Dean for Finance, Administration, and Corporate Relations Joseph Grasso said, “The effort to link productivity, economic sustainability and worker protections is timely and consistent with ILR's increasingly international focus in its teaching and research on labor issues.”

“This project gives ILR an opportunity to extend its work in this area, while providing our students and faculty the opportunity to engage in new research,” Grasso said.

The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed more than 1,000 Bangladesh apparel industry workers, and recent violence against striking garment workers in Cambodia has renewed attention to the international clothing supply chain, long known for low wages and unsafe working conditions.

Bruce Raynor, president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation and president emeritus of Workers United, expressed enthusiasm for the project, stating, “This initiative to convene stakeholders in discussions focused on the long term and grounded in innovative research has real potential to positively impact workers around the world.”

The project’s academic director will be Professor Sarosh Kuruvilla, who has focused on international and comparative labor research during his past 24 years at ILR. He has served as chair of ILR International Programs and of ILR’s Department of International and Comparative Labor, and is currently engaged in global supply chain research.

Hallock said, “Professor Kuruvilla’s research background and administrative experience make him an ideal person to lead this effort.”

Anna Burger will be the project’s executive director. The retired secretary treasurer of SEIU was the first woman to lead a national labor federation in the United States as chair of Change to Win.

There, she brought together seven unions representing six million workers to develop a common agenda for working families, successfully negotiated with the White House on health care reform issues and negotiated the first bilateral agreement with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

A consortium of foundations and individuals is exploring providing initial funding for the project, Burger said. Gap Inc. has been the first to step forward with financial support.

Bobbi Silten, Gap Foundation president and Gap Inc. senior vice president, global sustainability, said, “We are pleased to make a two-year grant to this project in an effort to find innovative, sustainable solutions that promote the health and safety of workers, and improved living standards while supporting a competitive global supply chain.”

She continued, “This effort builds on Gap Inc.’s long-standing commitment through the P.A.C.E program to advancing garment workers.”

Burger said additional funding will be sought through competitive grant proposals and contributions from other stakeholders.

For more information about the project, contact Kuruvilla at sck4@cornell.edu or Burger at annaburger.mail@gmail.com.