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2022 Fair Labor Association Fellow

Hongyu Yu

Nina Naffziger
BA International Studies (International Security, Norms and Cooperation); minor, Middle East Studies ‘24

Affiliations: President's Advisory Committee for Labor Standards and Human Rights, Sigma Iota Rho, Phi Delta Phi Pre-Law Society, U-M History Club, U-M Tour Guide

Fair Labor Association

During my 10-week virtual internship with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), I made valuable connections with my colleagues, learned the inner day-to-day workings of a non-profit organization, and completed research projects and other work related to the ongoing task of ensuring a fair, equitable, and living wage for garment sector workers globally. Before I discuss my projects and contributions to the FLA over my 10 weeks at the organization, I want to again thank the Donia Human Rights Center for their generous support of my internship as well as the other human rights related fellowships offered by the center and the PICS program.

During my internship at the FLA, I completed three main tasks. Each of these tasks taught me valuable concrete skills but also furthered my learning of the issues and challenges facing the living wage fight, and methods to bypass and defeat them. Outside of these three main projects, I also contributed to ongoing correspondence and progress towards living wage with many of the FLA’s affiliate companies and organizations.

My first project at the FLA was related to wage benchmarks. Simply put, a wage benchmark is a number indicating wage required in various places to achieve various goals. Some examples of wage benchmarks include the World Bank’s International Poverty Line, the Global Living Wage Coalition’s Living Wage Benchmark, Union-Demanded Minimum Wages, and National Poverty Lines. Each of these benchmarks is tailored on a country-by-country basis. Evidently, the poverty line for Bangladesh is different from the poverty line for the United States. The main portion of my task for the wage benchmarks was conducting inflation adjustments for each country and their respective benchmarks. Many of the benchmarks were created in 2011, 2014, or 2017, and therefore are often too low for the current value of the currency in many countries. Adjusting these benchmarks to their 2021 or 2022 value allowed the FLA to properly verify that their affiliate members and companies were paying living wages to their employees.

This experience allowed me to understand the differences between paying a wage that keeps one above the poverty line and a wage that provides for a positive living standard, including housing, nutritious food, medical and other required expenses, and some amount of discretionary spending. I would use and further understand this difference for the rest of my work during the summer at the FLA. This experience also allowed me to further my technical skills in Excel as this is the method that I was using to complete inflation adjustments. Finally, through the process of conducting inflation adjustments, I was able to fully understand the scale of the global supply chain, especially in the garment sector.

My second project at the FLA was creating a Learning Management Systems course. Much of the FLA’s work is training compliance and sustainability managers at companies like Nike, Adidas, PUMA, SKIMS, and other brands on the importance of living wages, but also how to properly implement and monitor the payment of living wages across factories in the garment sector.

Prior to 2022, the FLA would host monthly webinars to train members of the industry on these topics. It was a goal of the FLA to both streamline this process and create a consistent learning module that FLA members could refer back to time and time again if they needed to. This is where my task of creating this E-learning model came in. My goal throughout this process was to provide in-depth and detailed information to members so that they would have all of the information required if they forgot something, but also to not make the course so overloaded with information that learners would just email FLA staff with questions instead. Some highlights that I included in the E-learning course were a specific and detailed section on in-kind benefits (benefits that should be considered as part of wage) including a quiz and detailed information on required wage benchmarks. I also made a course to teach learners how to use the FLA’s wage tools, which are used to compare wages that a company is paying versus the living wage, legal minimum wage, union wage demands, and poverty wages in a country of choice. For this section, I included both a demonstration video, written instructions, and a series of frequently asked questions, in order to supply solutions to learners but also to cut down on the level of “simple answer” correspondence between FLA staff and learners. I hoped that this would allow for communication between the FLA and its members to be more focused on living wage tasks and less on technical, easily solved tool issues. The E-learning course will likely not be released fully until Winter 2023, but a model is now created for beta testing.

My final project at FLA was working on the weekly affiliate newsletter. FLA members receive a weekly newsletter regarding living wage and manufacturing news from around the world. I contributed to this newsletter by writing weekly articles on living wages. My personal favorite stories that I covered were by Microfinance Opportunities, who were publishing a series of articles on female garment workers and their salaries in Bangladesh. I wrote multiple article summaries on these women and was very moved by their stories and their ongoing fight for a living wage.

Overall, my experience at the FLA was incredible. I was able to merge something that I knew I was already interested in, human rights work, with completely new dimensions. I had not considered the link between human rights and living wage, and connected to that, the link between the ongoing climate crisis, financial stability, and living wage. My experience allowed me to synthesize different perspectives and concepts that I had learned about in classes at UM but had not yet combined as issues in the ongoing fight for human rights. I also greatly enjoyed learning from all of the people I worked for at FLA. Specifically, the Fair Compensation Team of Tiffany Rogers and Ruoxu Wang provided me with an excellent experience, many opportunities to collaborate with team members and companies on the FLA’s mission, and also taught me valuable skills and lessons that I will be able to take with me into this upcoming school year but also my professional life in the future. I am truly grateful for the opportunity this summer and thankful for the skills, lessons, and experiences that I have garnered.

Hongyu Yu

Hongyu Yu
Masters in International and Regional Studies (Chinese Studies) ‘23

Fair Labor Association

“This summer, I was fortunate enough to have served as an intern for the Fair Labor Association (FLA) with support from the Donia Human Rights Center (DHRC) and the U-M President's Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights (PACLSHR). It was a gratifying experience that allowed me to expand my research skills and provided me with a multidimensional and transnational perspective on labor rights.

This internship helped me acquire in-depth knowledge and firsthand experience on how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gather primary data to drive impact, make research-informed recommendations to promote labor rights, and bring business, civil society, and universities together to learn, share, and collaborate in responsible supply chain practices. One of my goals for this internship was to understand how we might be able to tackle agricultural workers' rights issues more effectively. The challenges in agricultural supply chains are complex and multifaceted, and the research remains relatively slim. At the FLA, I worked with the compensation team and accumulated a set of compliance living wage benchmarks specific to the agriculture sector that aim to achieve decent and humane working conditions. This process taught me how to recognize the special circumstances of agriculture work, from farms with informal labor structures to farms, regions with different labor codes to regions, and commodities with contrasting risks to commodities. I also contributed to refining the existing agricultural wage data collection tool in order to supply more accurate reports to companies on the compensation levels found in agricultural supply chains. We innovated strategies to overcome multidimensional challenges, including informal employment relationships, inconsistent pay structures, and minimum wage enforcement. Moreover, I obtained a deeper understanding on how efforts to enforce fair labor practices are impeded at various stages of agriculture supply chains. For instance, few participants down the chain are aware of or trained to apply the labor code.

This internship constantly solidified and benefitted my interest in fair compensation for farmworkers in global agricultural supply chains. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Donia Human Rights Center (DHRC) and the U-M President's Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights (PACLSHR) for funding this 10-week internship. I'm deeply indebted to Ravi Anupindi, Chair of the PACLSHR, and Michiko Shima, Technical Director at the FLA, for their constructive suggestions and informative guidance. I also sincerely appreciate the welcoming environment that the FLA team created. I will continue my effort in the human and labor rights field with what I learned from this experience.”