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Australian denim brand Outland Denim and Sweden-based Nudie Jeans have partnered on what they claim is a world-first project to support cotton farmers in the garment industry supply chain.

The ‘Supply Network Intelligence System’, developed in partnership with Precision Solutions Group (PSG), actively seeks out instances of deliberate exploitation, slavery, and unsafe working conditions and puts methods in place to resolve them. The areas targeted include, but are not limited to, organic cotton farms in Turkey from which Outland Denim and Nudie Jeans cotton is sourced.

“We think this project has the power to revolutionise the fashion industry,” said Outland Denim founding CEO James Bartle. “It isn’t just about eliminating exploitation from only Outland Denim’s supply chain, that’s simply not how supply chains work. This project represents a way brands, such as Outland Denim and Nudie, can collaborate for the benefit of the entire industry and the people who work in it.”

Joakim Levin, CEO Nudie Jeans, added: “We see this programme as a great possibility for us and the entire fashion industry to get insight and visibility in the part of the textile chain not often visible. By collaboration, we have a chance to target and support vulnerable groups in the textile supply chain with the aim of improving their working conditions.”

While sustainability is at the forefront of fashion industry conversations, the focus is typically placed on tier-1 suppliers such as garment factories and suppliers who work directly with brands. The size and complexity of fashion supply chains mean that the traceability of each tier becomes more and more opaque. With less traceability and visibility, workers at the very beginning of supply chains, such as those working in cotton farms, are at even greater risk of exploitation.

So far, the programme has reached more than 1.5m people, while 70,000 have engaged with the pilot campaign, resulting in over 150 communications with the human rights hotline. Reports have been shared of pay discrimination, lack of safe drinking water and of unsafe working conditions due to a lack of personal protective equipment. 370 vulnerable individuals in tented camp communities benefited from the distribution of Covid-19 prevention kits, which also raised awareness about the campaign, provided vital PPE to seasonal workers, and allowed further on-the-ground research into reports.

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The programme allows facilitators to act promptly in responding to and investigating such grievances, which are then reported to appropriate stakeholders, government bodies and NGOs for resolution.

Outland Denim, Nudie Jeans, and PSG are now encouraging other brands to join and become fellow brand-members in the programme. 

“The more brands that join the programme, the more powerful it will be. The impact will be expanded, the collaboration will strengthen remediation efforts, and the cost will be shared,” the firms say.

This summer, Outland Denim announced plans to open its Cambodian manufacturing facilities to other brands and establish an in-house standard for sustainability.