A string of scandals involving suicides and cancer among workers at electronics plants in Asia have raised questions about the policies of companies such as Apple and Samsung, revealing that much-trumpeted concepts like “corporate social responsibility” have hardly trickled down to workers, says an article in Occupational Health & Safety.

Codes of conduct promoting worker well-being are philosophically ambitious, writes author Garrett Brown, but they have made little progress in the face of shop-floor realities. The promises of corporate social responsibility:

Have been fatally undermined by the “iron triangle” of lowest possible per-unit price, highest possible quality, and fastest possible delivery times. Contractor factories, not provided with financial support for…policies required by the brands, instead face slashed profit margins and additional costs that can be made up only by further squeezing their own labor force.

The top-down initiatives of international brands “have failed to bring significant, sustained improvements to the actual factory floor,” Brown says.

No matter what the codes of conduct call for, monitoring of them is “gamed” by both contractor factory managers and “independent, third-party” auditors, and actual conditions have only marginally improved over the last decade.

But there are also signs of workers having some success in improving their lot, Brown writes. In May, for example, striking auto plant workers in China won a 35 increase in wages and benefits from Honda.