Transparency has improved dramatically among garment and footwear brands

Transparency has improved dramatically among garment and footwear brands

Clothing and footwear brands and retailers have "dramatically" improved transparency in their supply chains, a new report has found, but suggests more can be done – including the introduction of legislation and going beyond tier-1 suppliers.

The joint report, 'Fashion's Next Trend: Accelerating Supply Chain Transparency in the Garment and Footwear Industry,' by a coalition of unions, human rights groups, and labour rights advocates, describes how dozens of brands and retailers are publicly disclosing information about their supplier factories. This has become a widely accepted step towards better identifying and addressing labour abuses in garment supply chains.

"Transparency is not a panacea for labour rights abuses but is critical for a business that describes itself as ethical and sustainable," says Aruna Kashyap, senior women's rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. "All brands should adopt supply chain transparency, but ultimately laws are needed that require transparency and enforce critical human rights practices."

As of late November, 39 companies have aligned or committed to aligning with the Transparency Pledge standard, which was created by the coalition in 2016 so that advocates, workers and consumers can find out where a brand's products are made.

Of those companies, 22 are among the 72 companies the coalition began engaging with in 2016. Of the 74 companies the coalition ultimately contacted, 31 fell short of the pledge standard and 21 would not publicly disclose relevant information.

In addition, 17 other companies that are not among the 72, are already publishing their supplier factories list in full alignment with the Pledge or have committed to do so by 2020. These include Fruit of the Loom, KappAhl, Kontoor Brands, and Lululemon Athletica.

Despite the commitments, the coalition says voluntary corporate action is limited, and that the passage of national laws requiring companies to conduct human rights due diligence in their supply chains – including public disclosure of at least the factories they are using – would be more effective.

Since mid-2018, the coalition says it has engaged with seven Responsible Business Initiatives (RBIs), including the Fair Labor Association, the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textiles (AGT), the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fair Wear Foundation.

Yet transparency among the RBIs' corporate members varies significantly – and it is urging them to "play a leadership role" by requiring companies, as a condition of membership, to publicly disclose information about their supply chains by January 2020, at minimum, in alignment with the Transparency Pledge standard.

"Responsible Business Initiatives should stop making excuses for companies that want to continue to keep their supply chains opaque," says Christie Miedema, campaigns coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign. "They should instead follow the lead of the front runners among their members and make transparency a membership requirement to give workers and activists access to the information they need to help address workplace abuses."

The report offers a number of recommendations:

To all companies:

  • Commit to and implement the Transparency Pledge in 2020 by disclosing names, addresses, and other details of supplier factories.
  • Begin publicly disclosing other parts of the supply chains, including mills and farms.

To all RBIs:

  • Make supply chain transparency a condition of membership.
  • Introduce transparency requirements beyond tier-1 to progress toward upper levels of leadership, or to be part of the RBI board.

To all governments:

  • Enact laws that require and promote mandatory corporate human rights due diligence.
  • Amend customs-related regulations to ensure all companies that import goods into the country are required to disclose the name and address of the manufacturer to the relevant customs authorities, and make this data publicly available.