The OECD panel discussion titled ‘The role of retailers in building responsible supply chains’ explored what is expected of fashion retailers under the OECD guidance, the challenges retailers face when carrying out due diligence with brand partners and how retailers can promote responsible business conduct across the brands and products they engage with.

The session’s first panellist admitted retailers have an influence over the brands they work with so should use this in the right way. The panellist noted that transparency is the most basic aspect of due diligence so having a transparency pledge should be “an absolute minimum”.

Given the expansion of the International Court, the speaker also suggested that any brand with production in countries covered by it should sign onto the court as a precondition of selling on a retail platform.

The panellist said: “This would be very concrete and also quite easy to measure and implement.”

Plus, it was noted that retailers have responsibility over their own online algorithms that “push people towards overconsumption”.

The panellist continued: “We all know returns is a big driver of waste these days so there is also an environmental responsibility for retailers to not entice consumers to buy too much and then send half of it back.”

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The second panellist echoed this sentiment by explaining the scope of brands that retailers can put on their platforms, means they have an opportunity to “drive responsible business conduct through the industry”.

Achieving this is all about “setting expectations in an aligned way,” the second speaker added.

The OECD guidance and regulations that are coming will help but a major challenge for third party retailers is transparency because a third party retailer is an extra step removed from both the brand itself and the supply chain behind it, but there are solutions to help support that.

The second speaker noted the retailer’s buyers are often the ones with the direct brand relationships. This led on to the third panellist sharing that in the first instance it should be buyers receiving education and training on how to open the conversation with brands and understand the importance of due diligence and how that’s impacting business relationships from the start.

The third panellist stated retailers should not see themselves as a “judge, jury and executioner” but that does not mean they should shirk their responsibility to work within the due diligence framework.

The third panellist explained giving brands self-assessment questionnaires can aid with transparency, but the second panellist argued brands want to standardise expectations from retailers across the board.

The second panellist continued that if a retailer wants a brand to make a change to a product to make it more sustainable, brands want retailers to understand they need time to do this.

In other words, the panellist said we all must ask: “How can we get a consistent, aligned, timely approach from retailers to brands?”

During the OECD’s ‘Binding company-union agreements and their role in due diligence’ session panellists argued agreements must be equally binding for apparel brands, suppliers and garment workers.