SGS and Alibaba Both Ought to be Held Responsible for the Death of a Child Laborer

Recently, the Chinese media exposed an incident wherein a child laborer suddenly died on April 11th in Foshan, Guangdong. At the same time, the media has also put pressure on the Zhiya Undergarment Company for the moral and human rights questions in its employment of child labor. Upon conducting its own follow up and confirmation efforts, China Labor Watch also calls into question the veracity and social responsibility of the third party factory inspection carried out by the Alibaba operated SGS. Alibaba and its affiliate Alibaba Taofactory are one of the primary sources of orders for Zhiya. Alibaba and SGS’s factory inspection and examination are completely ineffective and surface level, paying little attention to the human rights situation and environment present at its suppliers, as well as lacking standards and norms.

According to reports, Zhiya has been approved as a “Quality Supplier” for Alibaba since 2012. Likewise, their factory also received the rigorous, on-site factory inspection from Alibaba Taofactory which verified “its trust based on the inspection carried out by the authoritative SGS organization”. This sudden death of a child laborer has exposed Alibaba and Zhiya’s mechanism for checking standards is unsound, as well as serious problems with transparency in the supply chain. The Alibaba Group’s understanding of supply chain management and social responsibility clearly lag behind modern standards. Even after this event, Zhiya Undergarment remains a “Quality Supplier” and even receives high approval as a supplier on its home page. From the present release of factory inspection reports of Zhiya we can see that Alibaba’s trust, and the many years of experience spent by SGS carrying out factory inspections have large holes in their efficacy. The inspections carried out by SGS focus on product quality, ignoring the human rights conditions. On Zhiya’s webpage on the Alibaba Platform, they recently released a factory inspection report that only noted that their management tools were improper (because they were not firmly established), but failed to make note of any other problems (report please see attachment).  China Labor Watch spoke to several workers at Zhiya who had been employed there for around 3-4 years, learning that the factory’s labor conditions and time worked by employees there had seen no change in recent years. For many years, SGS’s audits are at their same no different, they are hollow and are incapable of relaying the true situation in their reports.

The Director China Labor Watch, Li Qiang states that SGS and Alibaba both must shoulder the responsibility for this death of a child laborer. The holes in SGS’s auditing process as well as the inaction of the Alibaba Group were both contributors to the circumstances that resulted in the death of a child laborer. This is not merely the result of problems in the supplier’s treatment of its workers, but even more reflects the inaction of those higher up in the supply chain, who adhere to an ethos of putting on a highly formal, yet ineffective act of doing something. This reveals huge issues of social responsibility among stakeholders in this system. China Labor Watch strongly hopes that SGS and Alibaba will respond to the death of a child laborer in Foshan in an open manner.

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