Human Rights Watch, says supply chain transparency through public disclosure would demonstrate a brand’s commitment to ensuring good working conditions

Human Rights Watch, says supply chain transparency through public disclosure would demonstrate a brand’s commitment to ensuring good working conditions

German apparel and footwear brands are being urged to promote workers’ rights in their global operations by publicly disclosing the factories producing their products, an advocacy group has stated.

The NGO, Human Rights Watch, says supply chain transparency through public disclosure would demonstrate a brand’s commitment to ensuring good working conditions for workers throughout their operations.

The organisation used German sporting giant Adidas as an example of a company that has been publicly disclosing its supplier list since 2007, demonstrating that transparency is both "possible and desirable".

It highlighted a recent report: 'Work Faster or Get Out': Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry', in which Human Rights Watch documented what it said were lax Cambodian government enforcement of labour laws and the need for apparel brands to improve their monitoring and compliance. The report examined labour practices in factories producing products for Adidas, Armani, Gap, H&M, Joe Fresh, and Marks and Spencer, among others.

Human Rights Watch said many factories in Cambodia repeatedly issued short-term contracts beyond the two-year limit to avoid paying workers maternity and other benefits, and to intimidate and control them. Workers on short-term contracts who tried to form unions or assert their rights were especially at risk of not having their contracts renewed. Many apparel brands have not taken adequate steps to end this illegal use of short-term contracts in their Cambodian supplier factories – even where their supplier codes of conduct have clauses limiting their use.

"German clothing brands should be leading the way globally in demanding their suppliers respect workers’ rights and that factory environments meet international standards for safety," said Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch. "For their part, German shoppers should demand that brands make it clear where products are made, and under what conditions, so they can make fully informed consumer decisions."

The NGO pointed to the responsibility of brands under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to "prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts".

The UN guidelines also state that "where business enterprises identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse impacts, they should provide for or cooperate in their remediation through legitimate processes".

The call comes as the second anniversary of the Bangladesh Rana Plaza disaster, which killed 1,138 workers, nears. Three organisations negotiating victims' compensation have joined forces to launch a 'countdown campaign', urging companies to fill the US$8.5m gap in compensation for victims before 24 April.