There.s no place where globalization and fair labor issues are more visible than in retail. U.S. corporations are increasingly going far a field to manufacture their products. Adding to the concerns about the overseas workers who make the products sold in the United States are concerns for the U.S. workers who sell them. What should our expectations be of retailers when it comes to being a good global citizen, local employer, and neighbor?
In June 2007, the National Consumers League (NCL) convened a forum to explore how big box retailers are dramatically impacting communities, consumers and workers in the United States. The forum provided a platform for successful strategies communities have employed to shut these stores out of their cities and why these communities have decided to do so. The event also explored issues that affect consumers and workers, such as health care, food safety, freedom to organize, fair wages, and workplace safety.
At the one-day event, participants were provided with tools, ideas, and information to help consumers and workers to mobilize their communities and organizations on two fronts: putting the squeeze on big box retail expansion until dramatic corporate changes occur and putting pressure on these corporations for corporate social responsibility.
Mary Finger, chair of NCL.s Fair Labor Standards Committee, opened the proceedings with the question: Are cheap goods worth the trade offs? Trade-offs, such as low paying jobs and no health care for employees. We need to realize the impact of low wage jobs on the well-being of communities. Another key issue is how companies that do provide good wages and heath benefits can compete with others who operate on a race to the bottom mentality.