Many socially responsible investors don't want to put their
money in companies that use child labor or exploit adult workers.
One person who has dedicated decades to helping them find out which
ones around the world treat their workers best is Alice Tepper
Today, Tepper Marlin is president of Social Accountability
), a global standards-setting organization based in New York that
aims to improve workplaces and communities around the world. SAI's
certification standard is known as SA8000. To get the
certification, factories must meet many requirements. Among them:
They can't have forced labor or workers under 15 (14 in certain
developing countries), must have a safe and healthy work
environment, can't use corporal punishment, can't discriminate
against people and the workweek they require must be 48 hours or
Tepper Marlin founded SAI in 1997, but her interest in social
responsibility developed many years before then. After graduation
from Wellesley College, Tepper Marlin worked as a journal editor in
The Netherlands and after that returned to the United States and
looked for a job. An economics major, she wanted a job in the
emerging minority enterprise field. As a woman of 24 in the 1960s,
doors didn't swing wide open. An "adored uncle,'' Fred Comins,
helped her job hunt, she was hired by the then-Burnham and Company
as a securities analyst (one of six women securities analysts then
working on Wall Street), and did civil rights volunteer work in
Harlem at night.
"I kept thinking, 'Gee if I could only harness the leverage I
have as a securities analyst for social change I could make a much
bigger difference.' And so that is what I set out to do,'' she says
with a smile. She managed a pension fund portfolio for a Brookline,
Mass., synagogue that didn't want its money invested in any company
that supported the war in Vietnam, and then developed that concept
into a peace portfolio, which inspired more clients and 700 or so
letters from interested parties. "We wanted then to do what are now
socially screened funds, using civil rights and environmental
issues, as well,'' she recalls. It was 1968; her employers were
"happy to let me manage a portfolio that way and they encouraged me
to do the research on my own.'' Tepper Marlin went to Washington to
research her portfolio project, but was unable to locate critical
information. She tried to convince various Wall Street firms to
finance her setting up a department to do social research, but that
didn't fly. "They weren't convinced there was a market for this
kind of social research work. Plus I was 24 years old and a woman.
So, I discovered the nonprofit sector.''
Tepper Marlin set up a project at the National Council of
Churches, incorporated it as a charitable institution and started
raising money through grants from the Rockefeller Family Fund, the
Ottinger Family Foundations and others. The next year, she founded
the Council on Economic Priorities, ran it for 30 years and then
founded SAI in 1997.
Tepper Marlin says much of SAI's work now is in training
managers, labor inspectors and workers to meet workplace standards.
SAI recently launched its comprehensive Social Fingerprint program,
which "leverages SAI's experience from the SA8000 standard to help
companies implement management systems in a credible, pragmatic and
cost-effective way,'' Tepper Marlin says.
And through two large-scale projects supported by the German
Technical Cooperation and the UK Development Agency, SAI will carry
out training and capacity building at more than 150 factories in
India, and train 80 plus local trainers to help to sustain the
project after its completion. Audits will be made before and after
training to gauge improvements in the workplace. Central America
projects, funded by, among others, the U.S. Department of Labor,
include training programs on banana and sugar cane farms. Gap Inc.,
Timberland, Chiquita and Europe's Business Social Compliance
Initiative are partners in these projects.
"The SA8000 certified factories have more than 1.3 million
workers, and a few hundred more factories are qualifying each year.
SA8000 is really very widely respected--based on its credibility as
a robust and stringent standard--and is well known in international
business circles and among NGOs and unions,'' Tepper Marlin
She adds that companies who have met the SA8000 standard have
seen bottom-line benefits, such as improved sales, employee
satisfaction, strong community relations and recognized industry
reputation. The companies include global corporate giants such as
Chiquita, Tata Steel and TNT N.V., the express and mail delivery
services company based in The Netherlands. Medium-sized companies
such as Beraca of Brazil, Rosy Blue Diamond of Thailand, Sabaf of
Italy, TDE of Bolivia, TNT Express of Argentina, and Yesim of
Turkey also are participants in the SA8000 certification program.
TNT Argentina, Rosy Blue Diamond and TDE are subsidiaries of larger
global companies. Companies meeting that have been certified are in
diverse industries that include apparel, appliance controls,
chemicals, electrical transmission, jewelry and transportation.
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