Cracker Barrel on Regulating Responsibility

Business and the Environment

Bad apples or a bad barrel?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which is funded in part by the European Commission, released a report last month on inhumane working conditions in the UK’s meat packing industry.

In this news article, The Guardian asks, “How does a decent job become a terrible one?”

“These newly terrible jobs have usually been taken by migrants, often illegal. In this climate, abuse and exploitation flourish, and racial tensions grow as people see cheaper foreign workers being used to undercut local, more established workers.”

But, the EHRC report finds that not all workplaces have deteriorated.  So, if it is possible to treat workers with respect and keep up with demand, what explains the difference between a good workplace and one that treats its employees as if they have no dignity?

Did we find a few bad apples or a bad barrel?

Cited as a main bottleneck to decent work were the ordering practices of supermarkets.

The EHRC report calls on supermarkets to take the lead in requiring better practices from suppliers.  Namely, the supermarkets can work to ensure there is more predictability in demand for product allowing the supplier to plan their labor needs in advance.

The report also recommends that agencies that license the meat-packing industry make management training a requirement for licensing and that the agencies that send employees to these workplaces reach out to make sure the employee is adjusting instead of relying on the employee to report problems.

Find the report here.

Originally posted: 4/23/10

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