Levi Strauss & Co., which operates in more than 60 countries, went against the grain and ended most of its relationships with contractors in China after investigating human rights and worker health-andsafety issues in 1993. In a compelling article in the March/April 1995 issue of Busineszs Horizons, William Beaver noted, "If such becomes a common practice, an American presence in China could gradually improve overall workplace conditions."
In May 1995, the Puebla Institute, in partnership with the New York based Wethersfield Institute, conducted a conference to prepare corporate executives for doing business in China. Included in the two-day event was a "business roundtable on practical ways to enhance human rights and democratic freedoms through specific actions and practices during the course of business." Throughout, business leaders were told that they "can play a pivotal role in encouraging democratic rights" by taking "low-risk measures . . . to ameliorate the situation."
But if companies won't take the initiative, the public must. For instance, at the annual midwinter meeting of the AFL-CIO executive council in Washington, D.C. this past February, the council released strongly worded statements regarding child-labor exploitation and most-favored nation status for China. Aware that "billions of dollars worth of products made by exploiting children are sold to unknowing customers in the United States each year," the AFL-CIO moved to support the RUGMARK Campaign.
This campaign, sponsored by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, educates consumers about the "insidious forms of child labor . . . children as young as five and six years old enslaved" by the handknotted carpet industry in various countries. It encourages American consumers to purchase rugs made without child labor identified on a special RUGMARK label.