Karen Li

Spring 2014

Year: ILR '15

Cornell Activities/Groups/Affiliations/Leadership Roles:

  • Student Leader, Cornell Organization for Labor Action
  • Director of Advocacy, Cornell Asian Pacific Islander Student Union

Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety, a project affiliated with the Worker Institute

Describe your research on Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety: I am working with Molly Beckhardt '14 and Professor Sarosh Kuruvilla to track the progress of companies and workers in improving working conditions in garment factories in Bangladesh, particularly after the collapse of Rana Plaza last year. Many European companies have signed onto the Accord for Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety, a legally binding program for brand responsibility, while North American companies have created a separate, voluntary program called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. We are analyzing the motivations for companies to choose either one or the other program, changes in business strategy since the Rana Plaza collapse, and long term implications of these programs on working conditions and worker rights in Bangladesh.

What have you gotten out of the experience so far? The experience was an incredible opportunity to take initiative and explore a topic of interest for me. As a member of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action, we have been working in solidarity with garment workers to demand brand responsibility. The research complemented my campaign experience and provided a way for me to conduct research in conjunction with my activism. For the most part, I had a lot of independence on how to approach the research questions. I was able to hone and develop research skills, as well as solidify my passion for the labor movement.

Why might other students be interested in pursuing this opportunity? This was a great opportunity expand on discussions and lectures in the classroom. The research demonstrates how all the workplace issues we study in the classroom manifest in situations today.