Earlier this month, religious shareholder activists from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Mercy Investment Services and the Sisters of Mercy nabbed headlines by attempting to force Ralph Lauren Corp. to conduct a needless and politically driven human-rights risk assessment of offshore vendors.
The ICCR effort is another “name and shame” tactic intended to publically embarrass a company refusing to play ball with a left-leaning organization. According to the Huffington Post, the nominally religious shareholders’ proposal is …
… backed by the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund, an investment fund for the national trade union center, that urged Ralph Lauren to assess human-rights risk throughout its supply chain. The company’s board of directors told shareholders to vote the proposal down.
Rev. David Schilling, ICCR senior program director, however, made no mention of the union when he wrote:
The responsibility of companies to respect and protect the rights of workers in their global apparel supply chains became the central theme of Ralph Lauren’s shareholder meeting this morning in New York City. I attended the meeting as a representative of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a shareholder coalition active on human rights issues, and on behalf of our member Mercy Investment Services. Mercy and other ICCR members supported a shareholder proposal sponsored by the AFL-CIO requesting that the company conduct a human rights risk assessment. The collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka last April precipitated the filing of the resolution when the management of Ralph Lauren refused to join the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, a legally binding agreement endorsed by over 180 global companies that seeks to implement systemic reforms in the Bangladeshi garment sector.
Cue the snark:
Evidently, Ralph Lauren management feels they are doing enough on human rights issues and told their investors they prefer to ‘go it alone.’
Going it alone is no way to ensure that human rights are protected in global supply chains.
Why, pray, not? Let’s again turn to HuffPo:
Ralph Lauren said in a statement to HuffPost that less than 3 percent of the company’s clothes are made in Bangladesh, where it does business with 15 factories. Its internal auditing systems include fire and building safety and worker surveys, and it participates in the International Labor Organization’s Better Work program, which provides additional ‘in-factory monitoring,’ the company said.
‘We only work with factories that uphold our high standards of labor practices and work closely with all of our global partners to ensure they are provided extensive training and monitoring for all safety and worker protection efforts,’ the company said.
A company concerned about its shareholders as well as monitoring its vendors to protect workers seemingly already is on the right track without leftist strong-arming. But, to the latter, it’s not good enough:
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who spoke in support of the proposal at the shareholder meeting, told HuffPost on Thursday that he was bewildered by the company’s lack of action. The city’s pension funds hold around $23 million in Ralph Lauren stock. Stringer vowed to keep pressing Ralph Lauren on the issue.
‘We’re going to keep coming back to this,’ Stringer told HuffPost. ‘Their silence on worker safety and security is very troubling.’
The trendy clothes maker doesn’t see it Stringer’s way. The company defended its stance:
In its 2014 proxy statement, Ralph Lauren said the proposed human-rights risk report would have been an ‘unnecessary and a potential diversion of corporate resources with no corresponding significant benefit to stockholders.’
Ralph Lauren does offer a Citizenship Report, first released in 2013, which includes codes of conduct and ethical guidelines for its suppliers.
Bravo to Ralph Lauren for sticking to its guns in support of shareholders, and for its past and current efforts to ensure the safety and wellbeing of workers in foreign manufacturing plants.