Robert J. S. Ross

Robert J. S. Ross is a Member of the Board of Directors and Vice President of the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium.

Recent Articles

Not Chicago 1968, but Berlin 1932

If left leaning activists are serious about their characterization of Trump as a fascist, then they better get serious about the problem of unity.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Tucson, Arizona. T he cautionary tale now engaging progressive, Democratic forces in the face of a probable Donald Trump presidential nomination has been the widely noted George Wallace presidential campaign, the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the law and order reaction that followed. Among others, Todd Gitlin in The Washington Post and Michael Cohen in The Boston Globe go to 1968 to ruminate about their fears concerning the bully Trump. The more frightening, but perhaps more instructive case is the German federal election of November 1932—the last free and democratic election held there until 1949. Listen up Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, and pay close attention, those who think of themselves as being to Sanders’s left: History will judge us sternly if we fail this moment. Earlier in 1932 Adolf Hitler’s Nazis had...

Inside Bangladeshi Factories: The Real Story

A new report goes beyond the sanitized inspection regimes to hear from the workers themselves.

(Photo: AP/Mehedi Hasan)
(Photo: AP/Mehedi Hasan) Bangladesh garment workers hold a demonstration in Dhaka on September 17, 2015. A congressional briefing to be chaired by Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky later this month will contest the claims that the lives of Bangladeshi garment workers have improved since the Rana Plaza building collapse of April 2013, which killed at least 1,138 workers. The briefing will feature a new report authored by Bjorn Claeson and released by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), which documents the violence, intimidation, danger, and degredation that industry workers still face. What makes this report different from the other accounts of work in the Global South is the testimony of the workers themselves. Conversation in North America and Western Europe about labor abuses and factory tragedies like the Rana Plaza collapse most usually comes around to what the conscientious consumer or reputation-vulnerable brands and retailers can do to meliorate conditions. By...

Why Voluntary Standards Won't Make the Global Garment Industry Safer

After voluntary codes of conduct failed to prevent the Rana Plaza disaster, garment companies pass the blame. 

AP Photo/A.M. Ahad
AP Photo/A.M. Ahad In this Monday, April 20, 2015 photo, Mahamudul Hasan Ridoy, 27, who worked at Rana Plaza, the garment factory building that collapsed, walks with the help of a crutch at the site of the accident in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. O n Monday, June 1, police in Bangladesh filed murder and other charges against the owners of the Rana Plaza building, the landlord of the factories that collapsed two years ago, killing at least 1,138 workers and injuring about 2,500. The collapse was a spectacular moment in a sordid history of fires and collapses in the Bangladesh and global garment industry. The cutthroat competition of that industry is a furnace that fuels thousands of deaths and injuries. Last weekend, by coincidence, a conference was held at Harvard, called Transformation Challenges and Opportunities for the Bangladesh Garment Industry. Attending were Bangladesh cabinet members and the heads of two major safety initiatives—The “Accord” and the “Alliance”—as well as...

Two Years After the Rana Plaza Disaster, Are Reforms Real?

A series of garment factory fires in Bangladesh spurred reforms in the industry. But will they bring meaningful change?

Rijans007/Flickr T wo years ago, on the morning of April 24 th 2013, garment workers at Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh, were afraid to enter the eight-story building that housed five factories. Cracks had appeared in supporting pillars the day before and the workers had been sent home. Bank and retail stores on the ground floor did not open that day. Industrial inspectors had urged the owner of the building to keep it closed. But its well-connected landlord, Sohel Rana, got another local official to say he could inform the factory owners that the building was safe. Supervisors standing at the entrance to the building threatened workers with the loss of their month’s overtime pay (as much as half of their total earnings) if they stayed away. In an account reported by an Australian journalist, one worker was quoted as saying, “The bosses came after us with beating sticks. In the end, we were forced to go in.” Shortly after the workday began, the building collapsed. More than 1,100...