Accountability Associate at Fair Labor Association
Could you please tell us what you do, and how sustainability intersects with your day to day responsibilities?
The Fair Labor Association (FLA) is a multi-stakeholder initiative composed of brands, universities, and NGOs that is dedicated to monitoring and improving working conditions around the world. As members of the FLA, companies commit to create policies and procedures at the corporate level to respect the rights of workers throughout their supply chains and monitor the labor conditions of their owned and contract manufacturing facilities. I work with these companies to develop these policies and procedures at the corporate level while also overseeing the monitoring program that completes social compliance audits in factories around the world.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities that your sector faces with respect to sustainability?
Challenges: Limited resources and a very broad scope. Many non-governmental organizations in this field do not have the immense budgets that other foundations or large corporations have. Therefore, finding the resources to attract and maintain talent, invest in technology, or focus on all the different problem areas can be difficult. Along with limited resources, the breadth and depth of many of the social and labor issues facing workers today is another challenge. Many of the issues, such as low wages, forced labor, excessive working hours, and unsafe working conditions, are endemic. However, the programs to tackle these issues are often costly and take time, so the return on investment is generally low and slow. This reality means that not every issue can be tackled simultaneously and prioritization is necessary.
Opportunities: Companies are investing more and more in sustainability for a myriad of reasons. Whether it be to attract more employees, appeal to their customers, get access to better financing, comply with international laws, or simply try to make the world a better place, sustainability is becoming a priority across all industries. This prioritization makes people with an interest and experience in the sustainability world very attractive. Moreover, many sustainability issues cut across all industries (and all industries have plenty of work to do). Therefore, transitioning between industries is much more common in sustainability than in other job functions. This opportunity can be intriguing to those who are always looking for new challenges.
What advice do you have for Stern students interested in embarking on careers related to sustainability?
Be patient, be persistent, be inquisitive, and understand that one person or one company cannot fix everything. It is crucial to make connections across job functions, across companies, and across industries because collaboration is essential to success in the sustainability world.
How do you recommend students use their time at Stern to be better prepared for a career in sustainability? Are there are any books, courses, podcasts, or other resources that you recommend one to read to understand the various themes and career options in sustainability?
Take the courses offered by the Center for Sustainable Business and the Center for Business and Human Rights. Take advantage of the myriad of events and programs that both centers organize every year. If possible, try to do additional work with both centers outside of the classroom to get a better idea of their knowledge of and connections in the industry. However, I think it is also important to take as many classes outside of the sustainability bubble as possible. As companies and NGOs increasingly understand the importance of integrated sustainability into the core of their operations, it is crucial for people to be knowledgeable about both sustainability issues and the company’s core business operations, whether it be finance, marketing, operations, etc. Sustainability programs must fit into the business’ core operations to be successful. For example, understanding company’s costing practices can unlock innovative ways to increase compensation at the factory level. Also, try to take as many data analysis/technology courses as possible. Data drives everything, including sustainability.
What skills are important to have for a career in sustainability?
The humility to understand that someone probably knows more about a certain issue than you do. As mentioned above, communication and integration with other business units is crucial for sustainability programs to be successful. However, sometimes there is a sense that the sustainability team is the only team that knows how to improve working hours, increase wages, reduce GHG emissions, etc. Other members of an organization might have unique insights into these issues, even if it might not be part of their everyday job.
What is your proudest career accomplishment?
During my summer internship at Stern, I worked with the Global Compliance Team at New Balance. This internship was organized through the Center for Business and Human Rights. One of my responsibilities was helping to create a corporate level grievance mechanism that would allow workers in any factory producing New Balance products to contact New Balance directly. This project involved creating the grievance process and a database to track grievances. I had the opportunity to work closely with New Balance employees around the world who understood the factory conditions and provided valuable insights about the best ways to get workers to understand and use this mechanism. At the end of the summer, the company started the process of launching the mechanism around the world.
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