Throughout history, global commodity chains have been a critical component in fulfilling high consumer demands; these “chains,” either material or representational, has led to increasing concerns on labor rights. A global commodity chain is a series of links that connects the production of raw material to the distributors that eventually are marketed and sold to consumers. This extensive process is a crucial part to the growth of globalization that has allowed for a rapid increase in labor forces in developing countries. However, networks within the chains have been blinded by the high consumer demand and almost disregarded labor standards in order to meet quota at the cheapest cost. As a result, millions of workers struggle to survive through poor working conditions entailing long hours, child labor and little to no pay. An example of this can be seen through the publicly traded American company, Urban Outfitters, Inc, that has recently been a target for debate concerning their association with factories overseas that do not exhibit good labor standards. It has further raised the question as to what policies and consumer choices companies such as Urban Outfitter Inc. can partake in to improve the issue.
As the consumer demand began to increase in the twentieth century, especially in the United States, factories began appearing worldwide to supply the necessary materials for companies. They were a gateway out of poverty in developing countries because it opened job positions for millions of workers. With the raise in workers there grew a concern over the terrible working conditions, acceptable wages, hours, etc. As a result, the International Labor Organization was founded in 1919 to develop a core set of labor standards to ensure a standard working atmosphere worldwide. They include: “Freedom of association; The elimination of all forms or forced or compulsory labour; The effective abolition of child labour; The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation; and Right to collective bargaining” (Verma and Elman et. al. 2008, 58). While these standards are simply a basic list of human rights, they have not been enforced and cause controversy amongst the workers themselves in other developing countries. In the article Labour Standards for a Fair Globalization for Workers of the World, co-authors, Anil Verma and Gail Elman (2008), state “Specifically, freedom of association, the right to collectively bargain, and the ban on child labour are all problematic…many countries recognize them only with certain limits and not as a universal right” (57). Therefore, networks try to maneuver around the rights in order to get their specific product out in the most fast, cost efficient way. Workers within these sweatshops are making pennies per hour and if these are raised it will disrupt the entire chain. The company will have to pay more and therefore raise the prices for consumers, which could threaten their profit and benefits. Urban Outfitters Inc. and the majority of major networks within the global commodity chain are established in first-world countries where labor standards are strictly enforced. Although they cannot directly control the operation of manufacturing companies in other countries in which they purchase raw material from, they indirectly have the power too.
From fashion to household items to quirky miscellaneous gadgets, Urban Outfitters Inc. distributes an array of chic products through its five retail brands: Urban Outfitters, Anthropology, Free People, Terrain, and BHLDN. Since the company originated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1970, it has grown to operate over 400 various locations worldwide (URBN et. al. 2012, 1). The retail empire is popular amongst a vast amount of ages, ranging from trendy to luxurious, designer products. Although the company has drawn in billions of dollars with its increasing high consumer demand, issues arose in 2009 because firms within the company...
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