Development of Apparel Industry Codes of Conduct
1. Form and method of development of codes of conduct
The form that companies' policies take, and how they were
developed, varies widely from company to company:
Some companies have developed special documents (which
they typically refer to as "codes of conduct") outlining their values,
principles and guidelines in a variety of areas, including child labor.
These documents are a means for companies to clearly and publicly state
the way in which they intend to do business to their suppliers, customers,
consumers and shareholders. Some are intended for wide distribution,
including posting in workplaces.
Other companies surveyed do not have a formal code of
conduct, but have circulated letters stating their policies on child labor
to all suppliers, contractors and/or buying agents.
Compliance certificates are yet another vehicle used by
companies to state their policies regarding child labor. These
certificates generally require suppliers, buying agents, or contractors to
certify in writing that they abide by the company's stated standards
prohibiting the employment of children.
Still others state their child labor policies in formal
documents such as purchase orders or letters of credit, making compliance
with the policy a contractual obligation for suppliers.
Some companies have both formal codes of conduct and
contractual clauses or a certification form. Others' policies on child
labor are exclusively contained in contracts or certification forms rather
than in a formal code of conduct.
There are also differences among companies in how they have
created their codes of conduct. Some of the pioneer companies in
establishing codes of conduct designed their own codes independently, based
on their needs and experiences and sometimes drawing on existing models such
as multilateral codes of conduct (e.g., ILO and OECD), private sector
initiatives (e.g., the maquiladora standards), and
internationally-recognized labor standards set by the ILO. United States
corporations that have adopted codes of conduct more recently have
benefitted from the experiences of corporations that took this path earlier.
In other instances, companies reported that they utilize the code of conduct
or policy of a trade association or buying agent - either in lieu of, or in
addition to, their own.
Based on the information provided by the respondents to the
survey, including follow-up telephone interviews:
Thirty-three out of 42 companies that provided reportable
responses have corporate codes of conduct, statements of principles, or
compliance certificates specifically addressing child labor in overseas
Twelve respondents do the same through contract
requirements contained in purchase orders, letters of credit, or buying
Nine respondents use a combination of both type of policy;
Six respondents have no policy on overseas child labor.
Table II-2 shows what type of policy has been adopted by
respondents. It should be noted that the categorization in Table II-2 is
based upon the information provided by the respondents to the Department of
Labor. Policies may also have evolved since the time of the survey and
The survey results also suggest that the development of
codes of conduct is a dynamic field, with quite a bit of experimentation
Some companies have policies that are applied to both
domestic and international production, while others have policies that
only refer to domestic production and have not yet developed a comparable
policy for overseas manufacturing.
Many of the companies have recently revised their codes of
conduct or policies, usually expanding them to include new features, such
as implementation strategies. These revisions reflect the fact that many
companies are learning how to promote and implement a code as they go
Several companies indicated that they are in the process
of reviewing their existing code or considering the introduction of a
2. Basic Elements/Standards of Codes of Conduct
Corporate codes that address labor standards vary from
company to company with regard to the specific labor standards included. All
or some of the following elements are found in various corporate codes:
prohibitions on child labor;
prohibitions on forced labor;
prohibitions on discrimination based on race, religion, or
requirements to ensure the health and safety of the
provisions on wages, usually based on local laws regarding
minimum wage or prevailing level in the local industry;
provisions regarding limits on working hours, including
forced overtime, in accordance with local laws; and
support for freedom of association and the right to
organize and bargain collectively.
TABLE II - 2
Type of Policy Prohibiting Child Labor
( Based on Responses to Department of Labor Questionnaire
**Designated as business confidential therefore information
aCompany has a formal code of conduct, statement of principles or
bCompany has a purchase order, letter of credit, or buying agent
agreement, which contains a specific prohibition child labor in overseas
cCompany has no specific prohibition on child labor in overseas
production any document, although it may have a general reference to
compliance with all applicable laws or U.S. labor laws in its purchase
1Company subscribes to the National Retail Federation (NRF) code,
which does not specifically mention child labor.
2Company subscribes to the American Apparel Manufacturers Association
3Company says that it does not tolerate the use of child labor in the
manufacture of imported goods and has put its vendors on notice that they
are bound by the policy, but did not provide any documentation. Also
subscribes to NRF code, which does not specifically mention child labor.
4Company subscribes to the Associated Merchandising Corporation (AMC)
Although many of the corporate codes of conduct address the
same set of labor standards, there are significant differences on how these
standards are defined. In some instances, the corporate codes follow
international definitions of labor standards (e.g., those promulgated in ILO
Conventions). In other instances, the corporate codes of conduct themselves
define the standard. In still other instances, the codes of conduct do not
provide any guidance on the definition of the standard.
Almost all of the companies responding to the survey have a
general policy requiring their business partners to comply with all
applicable laws and standards of the host country and/or industry. Most of
the companies' child labor policies also define what is meant by child labor
and require that business partners comply with this standard.
However, the definition of child labor varies from company
to company. For example, a company's policy statement may: (1) state a
minimum age that must be met by all employees who produce their products,
(2) refer to the national laws of the host country regarding the minimum age
of employment or compulsory schooling, (3) refer to international standards,74
or (4) use some combination of the three. In some cases, companies' policies
prohibiting child labor in the production of their goods do not contain any
definition of child labor at all, leaving the standard open for
interpretation by their business partners. Table II-3 describes how
respondents to the survey define child labor in their policies.
TABLE II - 3
Company Definitions of Child Labor
( Based on Responses to Department of Labor Questionnaire
**Designated as business confidential therefore information
aThe company's policy specifies a minimum age and/or other specific
definition of child labor.
bThe compnay refers to the host country's law in defining child
cThe company refers to an international standard - most often United
Nations conventions - to define child labor.
dThe Company has no policy on child labor, or has a policy but does
not define child labor, or subscribes to the National Retail Federation (NRF)
code, which does not mention child labor
1Company subscribes to the American Apparel Manufacturers
Associations (AAMA) code, which mentinons but does not define child labor.
2Company subscribes to the Associated Merchandising Corporation (AMC)
a. Minimum Age
The policies of three of the respondents - Salant
Corporation, Sara Lee Corporation75 and
Warnaco76 - require that workers producing
goods for them be at least 16 years of age.
Salant Corporation's ('Salant') policy, which is in the
form of a Vendor Compliance Certificate, also requires vendors to comply
with all applicable child labor laws, rules and regulations.
Warnaco also requires that workers be older than the
compulsory age to be in school.
Dress Barn, Inc. ('Dress Barn'), Fruit of the Loom, Liz
Claiborne, The Talbots, Inc. ('Talbots') and Wal-Mart ('Wal-Mart') all
require that workers in facilities that produce for them be at least 15
years of age.
Dress Barn similarly refers to the higher of local law and
Fruit of the Loom also requires that workers be over the
age of compulsory schooling in the country of manufacture.
Wal-Mart first refers to the national laws of the country
on minimum age and compulsory schooling, but has its own minimum age of 15
if the national laws permit work at a younger age or if national laws
contain no provisions on child labor.
Six respondents (Dayton Hudson Corporation, The Gap,
Kellwood Company, Levi Strauss, Phillips-Van Heusen and VF Corporation),
as well as Associated Merchandising Corporation (AMC), whose code is used
by Stage Stores, require that employees in overseas facilities that
produce for them be at least 14 years of age.
Kellwood Company ('Kellwood') also requires that workers
comply with the national minimum age for employment and the compulsory age
to be in school, whichever is higher.
Levi Strauss, VF Corporation and AMC also require that
workers be over the compulsory age to be in school, if that is higher than
Phillips-Van Heusen, Dayton Hudson Corporation and The Gap
require that workers be over the applicable minimum legal age requirement
in addition to being at least 14.
Another group of respondents (Dillard Department Stores,
Federated Department Stores, Home Shopping Network, JCPenney, Land's End,
The Limited, Mercantile Stores Company, Nike, Oxford Industries,
Price/Costco, Inc., Russell Corporation, Sears Roebuck & Co., Tultex
Corporation and Venture Stores) require compliance with the applicable
child labor law in the host country. Nordstrom requires that employees be
over the national age for completing compulsory education.
Other respondents (Jones Apparel Group and Spiegel)
require that their business partners comply with the host country's child
labor law or United Nations standards, whichever is higher. Dollar General
Corporation ('Dollar General') refers to international and human rights
laws recognized by the United States or the United Nations.
Finally, the policy statements of a few respondents (Kmart
Corporation and Woolworth), as well as the AAMA's "Statement of
Responsibility," used by Hartmarx Corporation ('Hartmarx'), do not define
b. Additional Elements of the Child Labor Policies
Policies of some respondents go beyond prohibiting the
employment of children and contain clauses specifying how the policy is to
be implemented or what steps are to be taken in the case of non-compliance.
In some instances, the policies also encourage additional efforts on behalf
of children or youths. However, some companies that do not explicitly state
these elements in their code may in practice require the same of their
The Gap and Phillips-Van Heusen's policies both contain
clauses requiring that factories not only respect a minimum age, but also
comply with all applicable child labor laws, such as those relating to
hiring, wages, hours worked, overtime and working conditions.
Some companies' policies contain provisions specifying how
factories are to document that none of their employees are underage, or
requiring factories to make employment records available at all times for
The Gap, for example, requires that factories maintain
official documentation verifying the date of birth for each worker or to
use an "appropriate and reliable" assessment method in countries where
such official documents are not available.
Land's End, Spiegel and VF Corporation, among others,
state in their policies that they require business partners to provide
them full access to their production facilities and relevant employment
Several companies, including Sears Roebuck & Co. ('Sears')
and Dayton Hudson Corporation ('Dayton Hudson'), indicate in their policy
statements that they reserve the right to inspect the facilities where
their goods are produced.
Some policies, such as those of Federated, Kmart
Corporation, and Nordstrom, set out the consequences that vendors will
face if they violate the policy.
Several companies' codes also contain clauses encouraging
business partners to support special educational opportunities for young
workers. Several companies' policies on child labor also include
provisions in support of legitimate workplace apprenticeship programs for
Dayton Hudson, Levi Strauss, VF Corporation, Wal-Mart and
Warnaco, as well as AMC, whose code is used by Stage Stores, all state
their support of such apprenticeship programs. Both Dayton Hudson and AMC
qualify their support of apprenticeship programs with the caveat that the
child must not be exploited or given jobs that are dangerous to his/her
health or safety.
The Gap encourages factories to develop "lawful workplace
apprenticeship programs for the educational benefit of their workers," as
long as all participants are at least 14 and comply with the minimum legal
The Gap and Phillips-Van Heusen's codes contain a clause
encouraging vendors to support night classes and work-study programs for
Four of the companies that responded to the questionnaire
- Dress Barn, Levi Strauss, Liz Claiborne and Phillips-Van Heusen -
provided a formal audit or survey form that contains all the information
that is gathered from contractors and suppliers to determine whether they
are in compliance with the company's labor policy, including the child
labor provisions. These add transparency to the process in that they
indicate how the companies are making their decisions on compliance.
Levi Strauss' Guidelines contain a statement of its
commitment to continuous improvement in their implementation: "As we apply
these standards throughout the world, we will acquire greater experience.
As has always been our practice, we will continue to take into account all
pertinent information that helps us better address issues of concern, meet
new challenges, and update our tools, methods and Guidelines."