News Release

Corporate Accountability: Is There an App for That?


The New York Times has a piece today titled “In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad.”

Corporate accountability is being discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, which features business, government and other elite officials. Protests have been held outside the meetings. Meanwhile, the World Social Forum, billed as a counter to the Davos meetings, is now happening in Brazil.

Executive director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, Balakrishnan said today: “With something like an iPad, it’s not just creating the finished product — we need to look at the value added that is happening at each step in the supply chain. There are issues of secrecy in the supply chain, what each level is being given to make that part of the product. It’s possible that some of the suppliers who are being blamed simply cannot produce their components at the rate set by Apple without treating workers horribly.

“We basically have a system of self-monitoring by corporations. There used to be an agency at the UN that did monitoring — The United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations — but that was basically ended in the 1990s. The International Labor Organization is important but can’t hold companies accountable, only governments — and governments frequently plead that they are fundamentally at the mercy of corporations that would leave if they were made to pay and treat workers better.

“We need a global perspective in how to make corporations accountable, what kind of trading system we have and who benefits and who bears the costs.”

Balakrishnan is editor of The Hidden Assembly Line: Gender Dynamics of Subcontracted Work in a Global Economy and co-editor of the recent book Economic Policy and Human Rights: Holding Governments to Account.