Canadian apparel maker Gildan Activewear is placing a greater focus on human and labour rights, health and safety, and water management following a materiality assessment carried out across the company last year.

Detailed in its Genuine Responsibility 2017 report, Gildan says it worked with an independent third-party to facilitate a second materiality assessment last year, to aid in identifying the social, environmental and economic issues most critical to its stakeholders and to the long-term success of its operations.

Human and labour rights, health and safety and water management emerged as the most material topics based on their relevance to the company’s manufacturing operations. Traceability and chemical management were also flagged as material issues of particular concern.

“This year we have reset our strategic priorities, based upon an extensive materiality assessment performed with our stakeholders,” says Claudia Sandoval, vice-president, corporate citizenship. “We have also anchored our focus to specific United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as part of a larger collective vision for affecting change in the protection of our planet and the well-being of its inhabitants.

“As a company, we understand that our continued growth and success demands that we proactively implement sustainable solutions throughout our operations and honour our commitments to caring for our people, conserving the environment and creating stronger communities.”

Areas of focus will be on ensuring safe and ergonomic workplaces, empowering women at work, respecting freedom of association, and ensuring a fair wage for workers. The company will also look to optimise water use, ensure safe chemical management, and address climate change.

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Outlining its achievements last year, Gildan says it completed the review of its social compliance programme, which is now aligned with the Fair Labor Association in addition to including best practices in the industry. Integration of the Social Compliance Initiative methodology is still under review.

During 2017, the company also reassessed its existing Ergonomics programme to ensure it supports Gildan’s manufacturing operations. This identified areas for improvement and, subsequently, the development of new facility objectives, KPIs and a performance matrix.

In terms of environmental goals, Gildan says it has increased greenhouse gas emissions intensity resulting from its owned operations, per kg of product by 20% since 2015. The company’s energy intensity has also increased, by 9%, compared with its 2015 base year. Landfill waste intensity has also increase by 40%.

Gildan has, however, decreased its water intensity by 10% thanks to refurbishment efforts leading to the replacement of its jet dyeing machines at the company’s textile facility in Honduras. And in 2017, Gildan managed to recycle or repurpose 86% of its total waste.

“Our Genuine Responsibility programme provides a robust and transparent framework for all of the company’s activities and is recognised as a critical part of our overall corporate strategy and a key driver of long-term business success,” the company said in its report.

“As we look to the future, it is clear that our Genuine Responsibility journey is ongoing and that we must remain committed to continuous improvement objectives and look beyond ourselves to uncover innovative and sustainable solutions that can drive positive outcomes for all stakeholders.”

Last year, the company expanded its manufacturing capacity with the construction of a new facility, Rio Nance VI, in Honduras, production of which is expected to start ramping up by mid-2018 to support future growth.

Its acquisition of Australian-based Activewear Distributor is also expected to help Gildan meet its long-term yarn capacity growth needs.