Surge observed in garment industry transparency: report

14 Jan '20
4 min read
Pic: Shutterstock
Pic: Shutterstock

Clothing and footwear brands and retailers have dramatically increased their disclosure of information about their supply chains in the past three years, a coalition of unions, human rights groups and labour rights advocates said in a report. This has become a widely accepted step toward better identifying and addressing labour abuses in supply chains.

The 15-page report, titled ‘Fashion’s Next Trend: Accelerating Supply Chain Transparency in the Garment and Footwear Industry’, describes how dozens of brands and retailers are publicly disclosing information about their supplier factories.

In 2016, Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign coalition created the Transparency Pledge, a minimum standard of supply chain transparency that enables advocates, workers, and consumers to find out where a brand’s products are made.

“Transparency is not a panacea for labour rights abuses, but is critical for a business that describes itself as ethical and sustainable,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior women’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch.

Thirty-nine companies have thus far aligned or committed to aligning with the Transparency Pledge standard—22 of them are among the 72 companies that the coalition began engaging with in 2016. Of the 74 companies the coalition ultimately contacted, 31 fell short of the pledge standard and 21 would not publicly disclose relevant information.

Voluntary corporate action is limited, the coalition said in a press release. More effective would be the passage of national laws that require companies to conduct human rights due diligence in their supply chains, including public disclosure of at least the factories they are using.

Since mid-2018, the coalition has also engaged with seven Responsible Business Initiatives (RBIs), groups of companies and others seeking to drive ethical business practices by their corporate members to promote supply chain transparency through their policies and actions.

Transparency among corporate members of RBIs varies significantly, the coalition said. By not mandating public disclosure of supplier factories by all their members, these initiatives reinforce the status quo in the industry.

The coalition urged RBIs to play a leadership role by requiring companies, as a condition of membership, to publicly disclose information about their supply chains by January 2020, at minimum, in alignment with the Transparency Pledge standard.

“Responsible Business Initiatives should stop making excuses for companies that want to continue to keep their supply chains opaque,” said Christie Miedema, campaigns coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign. “They should instead follow the lead of the front runners among their members and make transparency a membership requirement to give workers and activists access to the information they need to help address workplace abuses.”

The United States-based Fair Labor Association, an RBI, has taken significant steps to drive supply chain transparency among its members. In November, it announced a requirement that all of its member brands and retailers must publicly disclose supply chain information, aligned with the Transparency Pledge standard, and make the information available in accessible open data formats by March 31, 2022.

The Fair Labour Association estimates over 50 brands and retailers will be required to follow this new policy and, from April 2022, may be subject to a special board review if they do not comply.

The Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textiles (AGT) has not made supply chain transparency of individual members a condition of membership but requires its members to disclose information about their supplier factories to the AGT secretariat that is made public in aggregate form through the Open Apparel Registry.

The Open Apparel Registry is an easily accessible and searchable database that provides information about factories’ affiliation to brands and RBIs.

The United Kingdom Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fair Wear Foundation have taken incremental steps to improve supply chain transparency of their members. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, amfori, and the German Partnership on Sustainable Textiles have not taken measures to link supply chain transparency to its membership requirements.

Fibre2Fashion News Desk (DS)

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