Human Rights Watch is calling on the fashion industry to adopt and carry out the Apparel and Footwear Supply Chain Transparency Pledge. The organization contacted 72 apparel companies, asking them to publish information identifying the factories that produce their goods, addressing a key obstacle to rooting out abusive labor practices across the industry and helping to prevent disasters such as the Rana Plaza collapse.
“A basic level of supply chain transparency in the garment industry should be the norm in the 21st century,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel for the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. “Openness about a company’s supply chain is better for workers, better for human rights and shows that companies care about preventing abuse in their supply chains.
Twenty-nine global apparel companies had published some information about the factories that manufacture their products by the end of 2016. To further drive the industry towards greater transparency, a nine-member coalition of labor and human rights organizations and global unions have endorsed the Transparency Pledge, with the aim of creating a level playing field in the industry and move it toward a minimum standard for publishing supplier factory information.
The coalition — which includes the Clean Clothes Campaign, Human Rights Watch, IndustriALL, Global Union, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, the International Labor Rights Forum, the International Trade Union Confederation, the Maquila Solidarity Network, UNI Global Union and the Worker Rights Consortium — contact 72 companies urging them to adopt and carry out the Transparency Pledge standards. At the time, many apparel companies were not publishing any supplier factory information.
The Transparency Pledge builds on existing good practices of global apparel companies and sets a floor for supply chain transparency. It asks apparel companies to publish important information about supplier factories and their authorized subcontractors in an effort to help assert workers’ human rights, advance ethical business practices and human rights due diligence in apparel supply chains and build stakeholder trust, in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
“After Rana Plaza and other disasters, human rights groups, unions and some companies and investors have seen how important transparency is for preventing abuses and for efforts at accountability,” said Ben Vanpeperstraete, lobby and advocacy coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign International Office. “Companies need to put transparency into practice to show that they respect human rights and decent working conditions.”
In its Follow the Thread: The Need for Supply Chain Transparency in the Garment and Footwear Industry report, the coalition reveals how transparency is an important tool for promoting corporate accountability for garment workers’ rights in global supply chains. It allows workers and labor and human rights advocates to alert companies to rights abuses in their supplier factories. Disclosures also allow supplier factories to address human rights abuses more quickly.
Of the 72 companies contacted, 17 — Adidas, ASICS, ASOS, C&A, Clarks, Cotton On Group, Esprit, G-Star RAW, H&M, Hanesbrands, Levis, Lindex, New Look, Next, Nike, Patagonia, and Pentland Brands — will be in full alignment with the pledge standards by December 2017. Brands such as John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Gap and Mountain Equipment Co-op adhere to transparency practices that fall just short of the pledge standards.
Mango, Forever21, Primark, Inditex, and 21 others, did not make a commitment to publish supplier factory information.
Some companies claimed that disclosure would put them at a commercial disadvantage, but a growing body of evidence suggests otherwise. Transparency is also in the best interest of brands as more and more investors demand information about companies’ supply chains. Recently, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark ranked companies on their supply chain transparency, requiring them to publish at least the names of the factories that produce for them.
“Adhering to a minimum level of supply chain transparency in the pledge is important for accountability efforts,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director at the International Labor Rights Forum. “Companies can do more, but they should at least start with this basic step.”