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

Trade Politics and the Presidential Campaign

Why Clinton’s criticism of trade deals like the TPP should be taken with a grain of salt.  

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
The Democratic Platform Committee will send its draft on trade policy to the full convention, having declined to openly oppose the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). On July 9, the Platform Committee instead inserted a phrase saying that trade pacts, including the TPP, “must protect workers and the environment and not undermine access to critically needed prescription drugs.” While both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton had opposed the TPP in campaign statements, it was the Clinton appointees and Obama supporters who voted to reject a more explicit anti-TPP plank. Labor delegates whose unions oppose the TPP say that the wording of the draft is clear enough for them. The Sanders delegates were sorely disappointed. Knowledgeable observers, including Larry Cohen, the distinguished former president of the Communications Workers of America and a Sanders supporter, attribute these divisions to loyalty to President Obama—who has made the passage of TPP a priority. At...

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
The 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 become the largest party in parliament, with about 37 percent of the popular vote. The Social Democrats (SPD) and Communists (KPD)...

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)
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 contrast, “ Our Voices Our Safety ” listens to workers who “report they will not be safe...

Bringing Labor Rights Back to Bangladesh

After a horrific factory collapse in 2013, pressure from global unions, human rights groups, and reputational damage to big fashion brands led to a groundbreaking accord to improve labor conditions. What has it achieved?

Rex Features via AP Images
This article appears in the Summer 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. href="**EF1"> Subscribe here . Two years after the April 24, 2013, collapse of the Rana Plaza building, Bangladesh has become a laboratory to test whether pressure from worldwide labor unions and NGOs in support of local unions and labor activists can improve life in the world’s sweatshops. The Rana Plaza disaster capped a series of fires and other fatal collapses in Bangladesh garment factories. Its death toll was at least 1,130. Another 2,500 workers or more were injured, many crippled for life and deeply traumatized. The survivors’ terrible stories include on-site amputations and workers being trapped underground for days. Some can no longer enter tall buildings without uncontrollable trembling and crying. One woman described attempting to go to work on 19 occasions but failing each time to overcome her anxiety. Thousands of...

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
On 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 international corporate and Bangladesh business and labor leaders. Not surprisingly, panelists resorted to a familiar defense in discussing who is to blame for lethal conditions in Bangladesh garment factories—...