Sunday, February 6, 2005 A United Nations report has shown that sports footwear companies are making progress towards ending the use of sweatshops and are implementing more worker-friendly codes of practice than clothing companies and retailers.

The study, published by the International Labour Organisation, suggests that consumer pressure is behind the changes. As a result of consumer’s concerns, footwear companies have been diverting financial and human resources towards developing and implementing better codes of conduct for suppliers. Large teams have been established within companies to work toward the goal of better conditions for factory workers.

The study, based upon interviews with hundreds of managers, activists, government officials, factory workers and worker representatives and visits to companies all over the world, goes on to suggest that workers should be given more powers to oversee conditions in their places of work.

Clothing companies have been failing to make such good progress due the large number of constantly-changing suppliers they use, with the ILO study describing progress as “spotty.” A major retailer may have a supply base of over 5,000 different companies, making it more difficult to establish stronger, more effective links with supply companies. They have also assigned less manpower to the task of compliance with codes of practice.

In some areas of the retail industry, there has been almost no compliance with codes of practice.