02 February 2006 | Rebecca Ellinor
Buyers are in a strong position to prevent abuses of low-paid
Even the slightest change in an order or delay in decision-making can affect workers' hours and pay in places such as China, according to Rosey Hurst, director of ethical trading consultancy Impactt, adding that buyers' voices are "extremely important".
Her comments follow the publication of a report into a project carried out in China to measure whether improving the working conditions in factories could increase production rates. During the project, Impactt worked with companies to ensure staff had sufficient time off, which increased their productivity.
Also, significant increases in workers' pay were achieved at factories as a result of introducing "production bonuses". It proved pay can be increased even when hours are cut as more work is done in the time available.
Hurst said that there was a lot buyers could do to help workers, beyond ensuring factories were audited for good practice.
"Factory managers are trying to produce the right product, at the right price and trying to meet time, quality and ethical demands. And that's a broad set of things which can often conflict.
"If an order is made late or changed late, or if approval for go-ahead is late it can mean workers have to do more overtime to meet the deadline.
"Buyers must engage in this. Ethical trading is not just a technical issue, it's a commercial one and buyers' voices are extremely important - they have the pot of money so the supplier listens."