- Within the past 12 months, more than 500 female workers in Nike, Puma, Asics, and VF Corporation factories were hospitalized for fainting and other collapse-related episodes, The Guardian reported last week. The most extreme incident happened in November 2016, when 360 workers lost consciousness in one of Asics' factories.
- Conditions in which the victims work include 10-hour days/six days a week amid temperatures reaching 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Total collapses reached 1,800 in 2015. The drop to 1,160 in 2016 is considered an improvement.
Fainting factory workers aren't new to Nike, which faced a similar scenario in Vietnam in April 2016. High temperatures were alleged to have been the cause of workers' ill health in Vietnam as well. In response, the factory in question was sanctioned, meaning that it received less volume, an action unlikely to have aided the workers in question.
The question of responsibility for worker health is a sticky one. Ideally, social consciousness drives a company to treat its overseas workers well, but that isn't reliable, similar to how an independent auditor chosen by an individual company is not required to share its findings with the public, beholden only to its employer.
But if manufacturers don't treat their workers humanely, they could also be investigated by federal authorities, which could result in hefty fines, penalties, and tighter regulation. Some consumers may even boycott manufacturers that don't address serious worker concerns.
Adidas has addressed its own Tiers 2 and 3 supply chain concerns by hiring Aditi Wanchoo, a senior manager charged with the task of eliminating human rights violations. Thus far her methods include apps and hotlines for workers to report abuses. While it's unknown how successful her methods are, the engagement shown by Adidas is greater than most manufacturers with factories in underdeveloped countries.
Another method achieving some success is the passage of the Modern Slavery Act in the U.K., which requires every U.K. company with earnings over $40.5 million to publish an annual statement detailing its efforts to address modern slavery within the supply chain. In its first year of operation, over 50 cases of modern slavery were prosecuted. That's four times more cases than in the years preceding the law's implementation.
Puma, VF Corporation, Nike and Asics allegedly investigated fainting episodes in Cambodia, which resulted in the installation of cooling systems and air conditioning in the factories. Puma changed its hiring system, abolishing short term contracts, which are believed to cause stress in workers. Asics and VF also improved ventilation.