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Guidelines for Companies Doing Business in Oppressive Regimes

Amnesty International on
Business in Oppressive Regimes

A letter from William F. Schulz, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA, to The Board of Directors, Levi Strauss & Company, provides a set of guidelines for doing business in China. At the time this letter was written, Levi Strauss was planning to expand its operations in China. Mr. Schulz commended Levi Strauss for its record of social responsibility, and suggested ways the company might take the lead in promoting human rights in China while at the same time promoting its own profits.

A copy of this letter was forwarded to the founder of, Hildegarde Hutcheson Jones, in response to her inquiry to Amnesty International in 1998 about guidelines for companies doing business in China. The guidelines could be applied to companies doing business in any country with an oppressive regime, and are as relevant now as they were in 1998.

Here is a summary of the steps Mr. Schulz recommended:

1) Acknowledge that investing in China does not by itself promote democracy and human rights.

2) Focus on the fact that, despite some concessions by the Chinese government to the U.S. in the area of human rights, torture and other human rights abuses are still common.

3) Understand that freedom of information and the rule of law are good for business, and unfair labor practices promote unrest in a population and an unstable business environment.

4) Encourage the U.S. government to work for human rights.

5) Enforce a corporate code of conduct

5) To the best of your ability, monitor working conditions of subcontractors and suppliers. For example:

a. Ability of workers to associate freely
b. Safety in workplaces
c. Code of conduct, with directions for reporting violations, prominently displayed in all workplaces
d. Enforcement of Chinese laws restricting length of the work week

6) Allow independent, local monitors to ensure compliance with your standards.

7) Publicly name subcontractors and suppliers

8) Sever relationships with subcontractors and suppliers if they do not comply with your standards

9) Pay a living wage, not just the legal minimum. Do not allow wages to be depleted, as often happens in China, by fines and penalties.

10) Notify local authorities you will protect workers from harassment and abuses by the government.

11) Inform workers what their rights are

12) Collaborate with partners and competitors to promote fair practices, ban products made by child or prison labor, and prevent unfair competition from companies that do not adhere to these standards.