Today, a group of some of the world’s biggest brands, retailers, NGOs and industry groups launch a Social and Labor Convergence Project, with the aim of improving working conditions in apparel manufacturing across the world.
The group says the project seeks to achieve real, sustainable change through the collective development of an industry-wide, standardized methodology for social and labor performance assessment in apparel and footwear supply chains. Through this, the industry believes that it will be able to significantly reduce the amount of money that it spends on duplicated auditing and invest the money saved in improving social welfare for millions of people employed in apparel manufacturing around the world.
The devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in April 2013 brought to light the grim reality of working and living conditions of thousands of garment factory workers worldwide. Since then, dozens of brands and industry organizations have committed to various approaches to ensuring worker safety and improving wages, but progress has been slow and conditions remain largely untenable. Just last month, C&A Foundation and Ashoka Changemakers launched an online challenge hoping to crowdsource innovations for building a fair and sustainable apparel industry.
Facilitated by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), this new industry effort involves apparel brands and retailers including Nike, H&M, Timberland, REI, Levi Strauss & Co., PVH Corp., Target, Columbia Sportswear Co., Puma and adidas; manufacturers including Avery Dennison; standard-holding organization WRAP, supply chain improvement experts Sedex and non-profit Solidaridad; auditing firms Bureau Veritas and SGS; the International Apparel Federation and stakeholders throughout all levels in the value chain. Hoping to attract more supporters to join this collaborative effort, the over two dozen organizations to already sign on have drafted a public statement, which begins:
“We, signatories to this Statement, recognize that the proliferation of differing codes, audits, protocols and approaches are hampering the improvement of social and labor performance within global supply chains. We believe that there is both a need and an opportunity for collaboration. Our common goal is to drive opportunities for harmonization and convergence in social auditing, as a means to improve social performance in global supply chains. We call on others to join us.”
The initiative, which follows the implementation of a successful framework on environment by the SAC, seeks to provide an answer to calls from the European Commission, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) and a number of European countries for a standardized, global approach to improving the largely appalling working conditions that persist throughout many areas of the global apparel supply chain.
“The industry, having heard the call from so many different stakeholders, is convinced that the time has come to create greater alignment within the industry,” said Baptiste Carriere-Pradal, VP Europe of SAC. “We want to check less and act more: This initiative will accelerate a race to the top in social impacts within apparel and footwear manufacturing countries by shifting resources away from redundant and misaligned assessments to performance improvement and enhanced transparency. Convergence is the key to successfully increase transparency and to improve working conditions in global supply chains.”
Solidaridad's Marieke Weerdesteijn comments: “We warmly welcome the convergence project. According to the World Trade Organization, world exports in clothing and textiles reached nearly $800 billion in 2013. There is a lot of redundancy in social auditing. It is estimated that more than $1 billion annually is spent on social compliance audits in China alone. Dramatically reducing the number of audits by using one common assessment would allow for redirecting time and money towards improving working conditions in the apparel sector. The textile sector needs to focus more on continuous improvement rather than compliance.”
“Since the birth of ethical sourcing in the apparel and footwear supply chain more than 20 years ago, there has been a proliferation of differing codes, audits, protocols and approaches as part of company efforts. This duplication and lack of convergence causes issues for the industry, drains suppliers’ resources and makes it difficult to benchmark their efforts," said Sedex CEO Jonathan Ivelaw-Chapman. “Social and labor assessment convergence to get to ‘one assessment’ is an often repeated request of Sedex members, especially manufacturers, which is why Sedex is delighted to be a part of this new project.”