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Business Ethics and Social Responsability: Child Labor, Supply, and Codes of Conduct

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Child labor in South Asia

The firm Bozabi has the habit of buying most of the clothes that it sells from suppliers located in developing countries. So far, Bozabi is a great success: their clothes are stylish, popular and of good quality. The management of the company boasts of having deliberately sought to work with manufacturers in developing countries to favor their economic development. The majority of collections are designed at the Bozabi headquarters in France. The company has elaborated global policies regarding the working conditions and for remuneration. The company managed to obtain from all its suppliers that they pay their employees minimum wage or better, provide them with a safe working environment healthy and pleasant. In addition, Bozabi asks them to provide maternity leave, to give workers the possibility to develop their professional skills and give them time off for holidays and sickness. Thanks to these policies, the suppliers and partners that participate in Bozabi article production enjoy a very good reputation in their community. People like to work for this firm.

After careful inspection of several of its suppliers and partners in South Asia, executives of Bozabi become aware of a previously overlooked problem: in a number of these plants, young adolescents work alongside their mother. While the company stated publicly its opposition to child labor, some of its suppliers seem to allow it. Executives of the firm sent a formal message to the managers of these companies from Southeast Asia to express their worry. These ones respond that the practices of employing young adolescents are generally well accepted in the local culture, and that the mothers and children concerned asked to work together since the opening of the factories. In addition, they noted that thus allowing members of a same family to stay together seems to be a good thing. Younger children play in a corner of the factory. The older children help the younger ones to read or other exercises. Families can lunch together. Directors also noted that the level of local schools is low. Finally they argue that if they should not allow children to come work, this would probably have two negative consequences:
1. Children would without doubt end up going to work in workshops or factories far more dangerous and unhealthy, at a lower salary, and would be separated from their mothers.
2. Mothers and children could stop working, which would result in even poorer families.

How should leaders of Bozabi handle this situation? Child labor worries them because it seems to largely compromise their access to education and harms their health. This is a clear violation of company standards. However, providers are not legally part of the business. What is fair and just? Can standards vary from the cultural and community differences? Are there precedents on which to lean on? Is there a form of compromise to be done?

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The leaders of Bozabi should handle this situation in a manner that does not compromise their ethical standards. Global companies should strive to maintain the same ethical standards and corporate social responsibility policies across the board, even in different countries, irrespective of the local culture, practices, laws and regulations.

Hence, it becomes imperative for leaders of Bozabi to handle this issue immediately, even though the providers are not legally part of the ...