The Future of Work

John Boudreau & Marc Bain

John Boudreau & Marc Bain

On this week’s episode of JustLove, Monsignor Sullivan focuses on ” The Future of Work” with Dr. John Bourdreau, Professor of of Management and Organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and  USC’s Center for Effective Organization; and Marc Bain  fashion industry journalist for Quartz,  the digitally native news outlet owned by Atlantic Media Company

Msgr. Sullivan and Dr. Boudreau  will be talking about changes that have taken place in the workplace over recent years, and particularly the increase in the number of people employed in the “Gig” economy like Uber. They examine whether such employment opportunities are essentially exploitative or empowering for workers.

Marc and  Msgr. Sullivan will be speaking about how working conditions in the developing world are monitored, and whether there is too much emphasis on corporate transparency and not enough emphasis on outcomes like worker’s rights, work conditions and wages. Marc has done considerable reporting on the garment industry’s supply chain and labor issues in both Bangladesh and China


The President Goes Shopping: What’s the Bigger Picture?

I hope President Obama was not trying to surprise his wife and daughters with the gifts he brought for them at the Gap when in New York earlier this week.

We all know the point wasn’t the gifts, but rather his desire to highlight the increase in wages that the Gap has committed to paying entry-level workers.  This certainly was a good thing to do.

It’s encouraging that some of the lowest paid workers will be getting a moderate increase.  A couple thoughts came to mind.  When I checked around, I discovered that our Catholic Charities agencies were already paying the increased new minimum to their entry-level staff and were also providing benefits (By no means did I do a comprehensive survey, but what I learned certainly corresponds to my experience).  Human service agencies, even while strapped for funds, do try to provide for their workers just as they do for those in need.

The other thought I had – and I admit I am more than a little focused on this after my recent trip to learn about the garment factories and their workers in Bangladesh – I only saw a small reference to the actual sources of the goods bought and sold in stores like the GAP.  What are the working conditions in the factories in China, Bangladesh and other places that produce these goods?  I can tell you that much progress has been made, yet much more progress is necessary to ensure safe working conditions in these factories.  We need to make sure that  American brands are part of the ongoing efforts to increase the safety and health conditions of these factories.

Good that the wages were increased.  And there are other issues both in the United States and elsewhere that need to be addressed regarding the international ready-made garment.  Let’s not lose sight of these other issues.

Bangladesh: A Step Forward Compensating Victims of Garment Factory Tragedies

Bangladesh A Step Forward Compensating Victims of Garment Factory TragediesRead the recent Wall Street Journal article. 

When I was in Bangladesh in early December 2013, the issue of compensation for victims of the fire and building collapse tragedies was one of the issues in the forefront.

(The other major issues were building safety and working conditions going forward.)

Adequate compensation for workers who were disabled and family members whose breadwinners had died was sought.

We have insurance and other compensation mechanisms in place in the United States.  These are not in place in Bangladesh.

Therefore the establishment of this victims fund and the initial contributions to it are major steps forward.

Progress does not come  easy or all at once, but progress can come with ongoing awareness and attention.

I also learned something very important,  in my meeting with the victims and family members of recent tragedies.

In this 90% Muslim country, the workers spoke to our “non-sectarian” delegation appreciatively about the essential and prompt aid they had received from Caritas (Catholic Charities) Bangladesh after their tragedy and loss.

The Christian population of Bangladesh is less than 1%  yet Catholic Charities Bangladesh was at the center of relief efforts.   I know I should not have been, but I was a little surprised.  I definitely was proud and inspired.

Let’s rejoice in the step forward, but the work toward decent and safe working conditions is long-term and complex.  There is so much more to do.


More on Bangladesh

Photo - Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Photo – Tomas Munita for The New York Times

When I visited my family earlier this week for Christmas, the millenniums and the baby boomers were all quite inquisitive about my recent trip to Bangladesh.  I showed them my cell phone pictures of the workers who were disabled by the garment factory tragedies of the last year.  Immediately, they wanted to know about the conditions in the factories there.  Their initial reaction – without even the slightest goading by me – was outrage by the unsafe conditions that led to the two recent tragedies.

They didn’t know until a little later that their Christmas gifts would further raise their awareness about the garment industry in Bangladesh – and the choice that American consumers can make to support better working conditions.  I gave them gift cards to H&M – one of the brands that has signed onto the ACCORD for better building and safety standards in the 5,000 factories in Bangladesh.

Recently, the situation there has gotten more publicity.  See the latest article from the New York Times. 

Hopefully awareness continues to be raised of the need to improve conditions for more than 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh.