Workers around the world producing clothes for North American and European retailers are seldom aware that company codes of conduct exist.
When workers are given information on codes of conduct, however, they often see them as a useful tool to defend their rights and improve their working conditions.
So, are codes positive or negative?
While company codes are often criticized as being little more than public relations tools to ease consumers' consciences, many anti-sweatshop campaigns are using these codes to pressure major brand-name companies to live up to their professed standards and ensure that workers' rights are respected.
Corporate campaigns have pushed some companies to strengthen code provisions, as well as monitoring and verification methods.
Whatever the limitations of voluntary codes of conduct, they can be a yardstick by which we can measure the performance of companies. When they don't live up to their standards, we can challenge them to keep their word.
"Codes are no substitute for labour legislation, no alternative to the rights of workers to form unions and bargain collectively, and no shortcut to better wages and working conditions." -- Neil Kearney, ITGLWF