Human Rights and Corporations

Corporations have many challenges. Depending on the company there can be regulations needing to be followed, laws that dictate how they can operate, employees that need to be provided for, rent and equipment to pay for, as well as shareholders to answer to. The bigger a company, the more complex these things get.

Human rights can get overlooked in the grand scheme of things within large corporations. For example, many companies use overseas plants to manufacture goods. In very rare cases, it is because there is more skilled labor somewhere else. But here in the United States, manufacturing often ends up in the hands of overseas employees is because companies can get away with paying their workers less.

Whether it is because of a lack of regulation or simply an inflation situation, it can be a real problem. First of all, it puts American workers out of jobs that they are capable of doing and may desperately need. But it also takes advantage of slower economies and desperate workers. Why pay someone here the federally mandated minimum wage when you can pay someone overseas pennies on the dollar? As a business owner who is trying to stay afloat, it seems almost like a no-brainer.

I’m not here to say that it is right or wrong. But if a company does go that route, they should be obligated to verify that the employees overseas have decent working conditions. Regardless of the economic situation, every person deserves to be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect. If a company is going to put their name on a product, they should make sure that the people who put it together were treated as such.

Other companies are so prestigious that they can wield an extraordinary amount of power. Large companies have lobbyists who act in their interests with members of Congress. They can—and do—push for legislation that will benefit their bottom line and not necessarily their own customers. And when they do violate regulations, lawmakers are often hesitant to rock the boat or risk losing a huge cash cow for their districts. And when the company is operating in another country and not violating any of that country’s laws, it is hard to reprimand them here where there are regulations.

So what can we do about it? Consumers have the choice to “vote with their wallet,” meaning that if there is a company with a reputation for exploiting workers or for human rights violations, we can buy from a different company instead. We can also push for international codes-of-conduct, where companies would apply the same standard (meaning, for example, giving the label “a living wage” to all employees, foreign and domestic. Such language would give the company the ability to pay an appropriate salary to employees everywhere, instead of being obligated to pay a specific wage to all). Something as little as a set of standards can go a long way toward raising human rights across the board.