How do employee conditions affect PR efforts?

A recent campaign seeks to make consumers aware of factory workers’ situations while several brands are looking to boost reputations with wage increases.

The advocacy group Canadian Fair Trade Network hopes its new campaign will make you think about the work that goes into the clothing you wear.

The label reads:

100% cotton. Made in Cambodia by Behnly, nine years old. He gets up at 5 a.m. every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works. It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature in the room he works reaches 30 degrees. The dust in the room fills his nose and mouth. He will make less than a dollar, for a day spent slowly suffocating. A mask would cost the company ten cents. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.

That 30 degrees is centigrade, equal to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Additional posters from the group’s campaign, which include a sweatshirt and suit jacket, can be seen at Adweek’s website.

According to The Huffington Post, H&M, along with other European retailers, recently pledged to increase factory workers’ wages after pressure from consumers and advocacy groups such as Clean Clothes.

A brand’s image is affected by more than just its factory conditions, however. Employees working outside a company’s factories are becoming more vocal about benefits and wages.

Walmart announced a plan to increase wages for about 40 percent of its employees in February in response to similar pressure from employee groups and activists. Shortly after that, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods announced a wage increase that could increase employees’ pay by more than $1 an hour. In March, Target also quietly made an employee wage increase, raising the base wage to at least $9 an hour.

However, the positive PR generated by Walmart’s move seemed to run counter to news of the retailer’s involvement in a campaign intended to decrease employees’ access to workers’ compensation.

Mother Jones reports that Walmart, Nordstrom and Safeway are among almost two dozen companies funding the multistate lobbying group Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation.

The group’s mission is to pass laws that allow employers to opt out of state-required workers’ compensation plans and write their own rules determining when, why and how long employees can access both medical benefits and wages after an injury.

Texas and Oklahoma already allow employers to opt out of state-mandated compensation programs, and companies that write their own plans with narrow benefits can save millions.

Michael Clingman, a workers’ advocate in Oklahoma, says ARAWC’s mission “creates a race to the bottom” as companies pressure competitors to opt out of state-required plans as well.

Though worker conditions can differ drastically between factories and stores, brand managers and executives should be aware that advocacy groups and journalists will be seeking to uncover unfair working conditions and force companies to improve.

Brands should also watch for the potential PR damage with regard to worker conditions and policies. Although a company can save money by cutting wages or benefits, social media backlash or a brand boycott can greatly harm a company’s reputation—as well as its financial health.

Weigh in, PR Daily readers: How do you think employee conditions affect a company’s public relations efforts? (Image via)


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