The Transparency Pledge aims to create a level playing field in the industry and move it toward a minimum standard for publishing supplier factory information

The Transparency Pledge aims to create a level playing field in the industry and move it toward a minimum standard for publishing supplier factory information

In the face of the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory complex collapse, a cohort of unions and human rights groups are calling for more apparel and footwear companies to join the likes of Nike, Adidas, H&M and C&A in pledging their commitment to supply chain transparency.

Published today (20 April), 'Follow the Thread: The Need for Supply Chain Transparency in the Garment and Footwear Industry' calls for companies to adopt the Apparel and Footwear Supply Chain Transparency Pledge. Its aim is to create a level playing field in the industry and move it toward a minimum standard for publishing supplier factory information.

Brands and retailers that align with the pledge agree to publish a list naming all sites that manufacture its products. The list, which should be updated on a regular basis - such as twice a year - should provide the full name of all authorised production units and processing facilities, site addresses, the parent company of the business at the site, the type of products made, and the number of workers at each site.

According to the report, published by a host of labour and human rights organisations and global unions including Human Rights Watch and IndustriAll, this level of transparency could help prevent similar disasters to that of the collapse of the Dhaka, Bangladesh-based Rana Plaza clothing factory building in April 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people and injured over 2,000.

In the wake of the devastation, the report claims labour advocates were unable to determine which companies' products were manufactured at the site and were forced to hunt for brand labels from the factory sites and interview surviving workers.

"A basic level of supply chain transparency in the garment industry should be the norm in the 21st century," say 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."

Ben Vanpeperstraete, lobby and advocacy coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign International Office, agrees.

"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. Companies need to put transparency into practice to show that they respect human rights and decent working conditions."

By the end of 2016, at least 29 global apparel companies had published some information about the factories that manufacture their products. To build on this momentum, a nine-member coalition of labour and human rights organisations and global unions endorsed the Transparency Pledge.

The coalition consists of Clean Clothes Campaign, Human Rights Watch, IndustriAlll 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.

Coalition members wrote to 72 companies – including 23 industry leaders that were already publishing supplier factory information – urging them to adopt and carry out the Transparency Pledge standards.

Drawing upon existing good practices of global apparel companies, the pledge aims to set "a floor, not ceiling", for supply chain transparency. These efforts to publish supplier factory information 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.

Already on-board and "fully-aligned" are Adidas, Asics, Asos, C&A, Clarks, Cotton On Group, Esprit, G-Star Raw, H&M, Hanesbrands, Levi Strauss, Lindex, New Look, Next, Nike, Patagonia, and Pentland Group. Meanwhile, US specialty retailer Gap Inc and UK department store group John Lewis are "almost" full Pledge aligned.

However, the 40-page report claims industry heavyweights including Inditex, Mango, Desigual, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, American Eagle Outfitters, Primark, and Armani, have "not committed to act on transparency".

Meanwhile, five companies are just short of the pledge, 18 are moving seriously in the right direction and seven are said to be taking small, positive steps.  

The coalition urges companies that have not aligned with the pledge to do so by December and to help galvanise the apparel industry toward a basic threshold level of supply chain transparency.

"Adhering to a minimum level of supply chain transparency in the pledge is important for accountability efforts," adds Judy Gearhart, executive director at the International Labor Rights Forum. "Companies can do more, but they should at least start with this basic step."