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  • Sometimes we imagine...

    Published on Thursday, May 2, 2013

    Sometimes we imagine that taking a stand is a very difficult thing to do. That it will be hard to make the right choice, to move forward in life, with family and friends and at work by doing the right thing, making moral choices, considering the impact of our decision on others lives before we make our choice. Yet really, it’s not that hard at all. It just takes a little practice.

    I’ve been thinking about a number of events that have happened over this past month – or that I’ve become aware of – and the varying ways in which the choice someone made has affected other people’s lives.

    One story I read about yesterday (and that has been picked up by media all across the country) concerns a small town in Georgia – south of Atlanta - in which, for the first time, high school students will be able to go to the same prom regardless the color of their skin. For years, this town has held two different proms, one for people who consider themselves to be white, and one for people who consider themselves to be black. Abbeville Georgia is receiving a lot of attention this week because of the choices made by a few students to create a prom for everyone.

    Some parts of the stories are sad in some ways yet quite compelling in others. The segregated proms have been around for years, yet for many students with friends across color lines, segregated proms made no sense. So they made a choice.

    A note on the Facebook page for the group says: "We live in rural south Georgia, where not too many things change. Well, as a group of adamant high school seniors, we want to make a difference in our community. For the first time in the history of our county, we plan to have an integrated prom."

    These young people have made a choice to go forward in a new and different way because they imagined a world in which their lives could be changed in new and positive ways. They’ve had their prom, and from all the news accounts it appears to have been a great success.

    In another country, on another continent, other young people were also looking for change, trying with their choice of work in a garment factory, to improve their lives and the lives of family members. Very sadly for many of them their lives have been irreparably harmed, or ended, because of the choices made by business owners who bought the clothes they produced.

    The choices of the young women working in the garment factory can be seen as positive ones. They wanted to make a difference in their lives, help themselves, their families, their children. Yet the choice they were offered came with many hidden costs. These costs are often faced by people who are poor, in low wage and low status positions, with little recourse if something goes wrong.

    The factory owner has now been arrested and is being charged with various criminal acts for not insuring that his factory was safe. Yet what about the companies who contracted with this factory owner to have their branded products made by the young women working there? What is their obligation to make the right choice?

    Many companies now require that factory owners sign contracts specifying that the factory is safe, that they are not employing children, that any harassment will be prosecuted, etc. And many companies send inspectors to plants to verify that what has been attested to in the contract is actually happening. Unfortunately this is not what happened in Bangladesh.

    An essay in the NY Times chronicles the factory disasters that happened years ago in the United States, leading to death and disfigurement for workers caught up in the destruction. Those disasters lead to significant changes in labor laws in the US, yet it took a long time and was met with resistance by some business leaders.

    What can we do now? How do we help to insure that women in Bangladesh and other places around the world who are looking for work have a better chance of finding safe employment? Business leaders can choose to follow the example of the young people in Abbeville Georgia, and take a stand to do what’s right and take action. Taking a stand is more than just words, it does requires action, it requires visibility and it requires a commitment to follow through.

    There are many companies and their leaders who are making the right choices when it comes to insuring safety in their supply chains. Too often this comes after a disaster, yet in a number of cases it has been different. At EILEEN FISHER, leaders actively seek out production facilities in which employees are treated fairly and the buildings are safe.  Milliken, named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies, has taken numerous steps to change products and processes so that they can ‘do good’ in the world. Nordstrom, a well-known and well respected retailer, has been strengthening its social responsibility agenda and on-the-ground practices for years.

    It’s not hard to take a stand. There are lots of examples available. You don’t have to imagine anymore – you can actually do it.

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