Can Lean Manufacturing Put an End to Sweatshops? | G. Distelhorst | HBR

Can Lean Manufacturing Put an End to Sweatshops? | Greg Distelhorst | Harvard Business Review“Producers in less-developed countries compete by keeping costs low. Conventional wisdom holds that improving working conditions (which typically costs money)  would undermine the competitive advantage these firms enjoy. Our research suggests an alternative to this race to the bottom. It involves replacing traditional mass manufacturing with ‘lean manufacturing’ principles.”

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

In 2014, three academics from Oxford, Stanford and Brown researched the impact of Lean Manufacturing on working conditions in the Nike supply chain. The conclusions in the HBR article are less nuanced than in their original paper in Management Science, which concluded: “Using difference-in-differences estimates from a panel of over three hundred factories, we find that lean adoption was associated with a 15 percentage point reduction in noncompliance with labor standards that primarily reflect factory wage and work hour practices. However, we find a null effect on factory health and safety standards.”

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Comment on Nike: People are people no matter where they work | Bill Waddell

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“How […] can we understand […] Nike’s institutional commitment to systemic exploitation of folks working in factories? […]

The ‘manufacturing’ people at Nike are merely the internal champions of seeking out and making maximum use – abuse – of cheap labor.  If they were actually manufacturing people they would be ashamed of and outraged over factories such as the one they championed in Bangladesh – the one in which they “slogged up a dirty staircase to the top floors of an eight-story building” and had “rolls of fabric were strewn across the production floor and some windows were bolted shut.”

No serious manufacturing person with even the least measure of pride would have urged the company to perform production in such a pig sty of a factory.  Only some sort of mercenary focused solely on grubbing for pennies wants to be associated with such a plant.”

Michel Baudin‘s comments:

Not that long ago, the awful conditions Bill Waddell is describing in Bangladesh factories were common in the US, UK, Germany, France, Japan,… Right or wrong, today’s advanced economies did sacrifice generations of factory workers on the altar of development, including my grandparents, and perhaps Bill’s. It was a decade-long struggle to get past this but, by and large, we have.

What attitude should we have towards countries where workers are treated today the way they were here 100 years ago? Bill is suggesting a boycott, but how would this play out? Specifically:

  • Would the factories be improved?
  • Would the adult workers find other employment under conditions that meet our standards?
  • Would the child workers go back to school?

Unless we are in a position to make these outcomes happen, how sincere is our concern?

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