Social accountability has become an increasingly important tool for the importing countries to motivate the suppliers to maintain a high level of social and environmental performance. The main aim of social accountability program is to ensure that business partners abide by regional laws as well as comply with the company's commitment to social responsibility. India is one of the important garment sourcing destinations in Asia.


In a world where people are becoming increasingly concerned about responsible production policies, ecology, and environment, there is a greater demand for greener textiles in the foreign markets. More and more companies in India are realizing the importance of the term corporate social responsibility (CSR) norms that have been laid down by the importers as a precondition for doing business with other countries.


The concept of CSR has moved far beyond the simple definition of ethical trading and has now grown in importance to become a system of managing a company in a way that balances interests or all stakeholders, customers, employees, investors, suppliers, society, government, and environment. With to workers on the parameters of human rights and dignity of work, retailers worldwide are under pressure to give 'sweatshop-free' clothing to the consumers.


International Standard, SA 8000, know as Social Accountability 8000 is the international standard for management systems, primarily dealing with the working conditions. The principles of SA 8000 are:


  • No child labor
  • No forced labor
  • Health and safety of workmen to be ensured
  • Freedom of association and right to collective bargaining to be respected
  • No discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, caste, etc.
  • No unjust disciplinary practices
  • Working hours not more than eight hours
  • Fair compensation (wages), and
  • Management systems to be in place to monitor the implementation of the standard


Future challenges for the Garment Sector


Changes in international sourcing environment are posing many challenges for the Indian suppliers. These challenges are mainly concerned with such issues discussed above. First of all, competing sourcing destinations are now being assessed in the light of new developments related to enhanced concerns for workers and workplace.


Second, increasing awareness and acceptance of such standards will also ensure in the future that similar demands start coming from domestic market.


Third, for fulfilling the desired objectives, awareness, facilitation and support for producers and importers must be ensured.


In the recent business environment, all major international retailers, such as GAP, Nike, IKEA, Levi's, H&M, Sara Lee, Jockey International, and VF corporation have started participating in the improvement of working conditions in the garment factories from which they source, and many of such initiatives have resulted in improvements in the working conditions of the workers. As the issues of improving on the job working conditions are being addressed, companies are realizing the importance of going beyond the factory and participating in improving the quality of the life of workers.


In India, according to available estimates, there are 58 WRAP certifications, 111 SA 8000, and more than 125 AVE audits. Besides this, manufacturers are also keeping up with regular monitoring under code of conduct with specific buyers. GAP is working with over 100 factories, H&M with nearly 60, Kellwood about 40, and Tilburg with around 50 factories for ensuring compliance for their buyers. It is estimated that exporters with a turnover of more than Rs.50 cr are being monitored for compliance and such exporters account for more than 75 percent of exports from the country. Such certification will enhance the 'social image' of Indian suppliers worldwide, leading to a better market share and higher unit value realization. Also, the companies will be able to improve the relations between their management and work force and create a healthy work environment, resulting in higher labor productivity.


 

Options for Future Progress


In the World Bank study few options for future progress in CSR has been suggested which are as follows:-


Public Sector Engagement:


Real, systemic progress will not happen unless governments get involved more vitally. Virtually all the parties consulted, including companies, NGOs, and trade unions, called on governments to enforce their laws more widely and effectively. A greater commitment to the enforcement of existing standards, to the degree they are consistent with international norms, is viewed widely as having value in itself. In addition it would support the efforts of private sector actors and noncommercial organizations to promote better social and environmental practices. The options make note of broader policy questions that, while beyond the scope of this particular study, were identified by many who were consulted as having meaningful impact on the issues at the core of the study.


Standards and Harmonization:


This issue received significant attention in the course of consultations and participants generally viewed harmonization as a critically important goal. While some, especially suppliers, asserted their desire for a universally applicable base code of conduct, the investment needed to refine the relatively small differences present in today's codes may prove unwise. An effort to create a single global framework risks getting bogged down in extensive technical and political questions. Instead, more effective steps toward harmonization can be taken through initiatives to promote comprehensive approaches at the national and industry level. To the degree that opportunities also exist for the harmonization and improvement of approaches to implementation of codes and of social and environmental monitoring and verification, these may present the potential for substantial progress, because these are the areas where the multiplicity of approaches seems to create the greatest tension and confusion. A different challenge emerges concerning environmental issues, where establishment of broadly agreed principles is needed, as opposed to the harmonization of existing standards concerning labor.


Capacity Building:


The Options presented reflect the broadly held view that capacity building remains a critical ingredient in making both current and future steps more effective. In particular, we present options that focus on the needs and opportunities related to capacity building for workers, suppliers, civil society, and social auditors. The options suggest a focus on social infrastructure that will deliver value not only in terms of better performance on social and environmental principles, but also in terms of building social infrastructure that is better able to support and contribute to development goals.


Worker Education and empowerment:


Further progress will be made by providing more and better education to workers concerning their rights. This should take place through such means as access to public mechanisms for redress of problems, participation in private efforts to implement codes of conduct.


Research:


There appear to be discrete areas in which additional research would make a substantial contribution toward future progress. As noted above, there is a lack of consensus, and even a lack of common reference points, about whether the "business case" for CSR in supply chains exits. Additional research about the costs and benefits of attending to social and environmental principal more fully would help illuminate this oft-cited but poorly understood aspect of the broader debate. Any such research should take care to distinguish between the business rationale for suppliers and buyers, which diverges in some significant ways. Research in this area would be most valuable, especially to the extent it looks at the business case from the suppliers perspective in exporting countries, to ensure maximum relevance and uptake of the findings. In addition, the consultations illustrated the need to build greater understanding of how to achieve worker empowerment in the multiple operating environments to which apparel and agriculture supply chains extend. In conducting such research it would be valuable to more fully illuminate the specific problems faced by different types of workers (for example, seasonal, migrant, and home workers) so that all parties this issue can take action consistent with the experiences and perspectives of these different groups. Finally, research may be able to help promote greater inclusion of environmental and human rights issues into CSR efforts in global supply chains, because the level of understanding and commitment is currently relatively low.

 

Removing Economic Barriers to CSR:


In some cases, note was taken of structural economic barriers to the wider adoption of CSR in supply chains. To be successful, the options presented will need to address, or at least be developed with some regard for, these structural barriers. Some cited the very nature of supply chains themselves, which especially in the apparel industry may contain inherent disincentives to the adoption of good practice. Numerous parties cited the lack face de facto penalties for adopting practices that transcend significantly those undertaken by competitors. In addition, buyers should address the mixed messages and incentives they send to suppliers, who respond to compliance staff promoting adoption of good labor conditions, and also merchandisers who often demand lower prices, faster deliveries, and shorter lead times.


Conclusion


Shrinking lead times in the apparel industry has drastically changed the situation and the fast fashion concept has created a lot of pressure on the supply chain leading to worsening to labor conditions in this sector. Indian garment exporters stand to gain from positive externalities arising from adopting social compliance practices in terms of healthy empowered and more productive labor. Theses gains may be overshadowed by the potential misuse of these standards as NTBs and difficulty of choice emanating from multiplicity of standards. To keep pace with the global happenings and upliftment of Indias image on the international map, the social compliance issues should be handled with dexterity both by policymakers and the exporters.


About the Authors


Pallavee Kohli is the Senior Asstt. Prof. & Head International College for Girls, Jaipur and Durganshu Arya is Senior Lecturer Pearl Academy of Fashion, Jaipur