New book examines social responsibility in the apparel industry
Marsha Dickson
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8:53 a.m., Jan. 23, 2009----Marsha Dickson, chairperson of the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies in the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy, has published a new book, Social Responsibility in the Global Apparel Industry, along with coauthors Suzanne Loker of Cornell University and Molly Eckman of Colorado State University.

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“This is a book we wish was unnecessary to write,” say the authors in the book's preface. “But this book is necessary to write. Unsafe factory conditions, long hours, inadequate pay, and use of toxic chemicals are not isolated incidents but widespread, systemic problems throughout the global apparel industry.”

Published by Fairchild Books of New York, the book provides insight on how leading apparel and footwear manufacturers and retailers approach and attempt to maintain social responsibility in the design, production and sourcing of their products and in business operations.

While the general tone of the book is positive and highlights the innovative actions and best practices of leaders in social responsibility, readers will also gain insight about unresolved issues.

The book primarily focuses on topics associated with achieving improved labor standards and working conditions. Dickson and her coauthors address the complexity of identifying and finding solutions for such problems as child labor, harassment and abuse, discrimination, excessive work hours, low wages, factory health and safety, and limits on freedom of association.

The authors also introduce various supply chain stakeholders, what they demand and how they have influenced the industry's movement toward greater social responsibility. They highlight trends in global production and sourcing and introduce how environmental concerns important to the industry are being addressed.

“The book is based on a wealth of information we have gained through research that has involved first-hand experiences with the topics,” Dickson says. “We have conducted numerous interviews with individuals who work for multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and labor groups, and factory management in the U.S. and offshore.

“We've made numerous factory visits to countries around the world, including China, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam,” she continues, “and I have participated in the decision-making and leadership of the Fair Labor Association, which focuses on improving labor conditions in apparel and footwear factories.”

She adds that the authors analyzed piles of research articles, corporate and NGO reports, and editorial and news reports from the international press.

Dickson hopes the book will find multiple uses by instructors in the apparel field, either as a primary text for courses focused on social responsibility or as a supplemental text for courses examining current topics in the industry.

“Educators from other disciplines like business, sociology, women's studies or international economics may also find the book useful,” she adds, “and could use it as an industry sector case study when examining issues in business and society, globalization, and international development. We also hope it will find wide readership in the apparel industry as a reference and guide to those who are interested in advancing social responsibility in their businesses and even among those in other industries with similar complex, global supply chains, such as toys and electronics.”

Article by Beth Chajes