Rob Sinclair, president at Li & Fung and GAFTI chairman

Rob Sinclair, president at Li & Fung and GAFTI chairman

Two leading initiatives trying to move the apparel industry towards a single solution for compliance and sustainability are to practice what they preach by working together in a bid to reduce the time and money spent on duplicated auditing.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and the Garment, Apparel, Footwear and Textile Initiative (GAFTI) are to join forces by hiring joint employees in Hong Kong – a step that also gives the SAC its first on-the-ground presence outside North America and Europe in Asia.

On top of this, GAFTI's initiatives are going to be aligned and affiliated with the SAC.

"We wanted to do this to demonstrate the power of one; the ability of two initiatives to work together and not duplicate resources to help improve this industry, collectively and together, and very efficiently," SAC CEO Jason Kibbey told delegates at this month's Prime Source Forum event in Hong Kong.

"We hope that this is the first of many stages working together," he added.

The first joint hire between SAC and GAFTI will be a Hong Kong director based at the Clothing Industry Training Authority (CITA).

"This builds on a long-term partnership with CITA and the focus of this person will be working with our members here in the sourcing community as well as the manufacturing community in supporting the manufacturers who are using the Higg Index," said Kibbey.

On the GAFTI side, the new executive will be supporting the testing and protocols that GAFTI has created, and will be supporting the GAFTI community in Hong Kong.

Both organisations count members representing every link in the global supply chain, including brands, retailers, manufacturers, agents, mills, trim suppliers, associations testing and compliance firms. And not surprisingly there is duplication between the two, including PVH, Gap Inc, Under Armour, Lululemon, VF Corp, Li & Fung, Esquel, and TAL Group.

"Everyone that's a member of GAFTI is also a member of SAC, so we just felt it made sense for us to collaborate more," confirmed Rob Sinclair, president at Li & Fung and GAFTI chairman. While both bodies remain legally separate, "we may, at a later date, morph into one entity."

Advocates of change

For its part, SAC has been working to harmonise standards relating to sustainability, the environment and social issues, with additions including the Higg Index and the Social Labor Convergence Project (SLCP).

Likewise, Sinclair explained, GAFTI has taken a grassroots approach to try to be the advocates of change in three key areas.

The first is compliance: "We're advocates of trying to move the industry towards a single platform or solution for compliance and auditing, versus having every single organisation independently do their own thing...which is very admirable on one hand, but at the same time as we all know from a factory or vendor perspective, is extremely exhausting."

The second key pillar is associated with product testing and product integrity. "GAFTI has been very active with respect to the standardisation of a number of testing methodologies associated with key restricted substances. On a monthly basis we have upwards of 30-40 people from the testing community looking at methodologies and how equipment within the testing institutions can and needs to be calibrated in order to ensure consistency in testing methodologies.

"The point behind that is we all depend a great deal on testing institutions to test accurately, but it's not uncommon to have product that actually fails and/or possibly passes – when in fact it's the opposite. So we're really pushing the industry on the testing side to do a better job, to be more transparent, so that they're sharing, with their peers and competitors, testing methodologies and equipment that we're using to make sure that the test reports are reliable.

"Those best practices are then shared with Consumer Products Safety Council (CPSC) in the US, and the AAFA (American Apparel & Footwear Association) post all of these testing standards and methodologies that we've created on their website. We're encouraging everybody to look at the methodologies and embed them in their QA processes and procedures."

The last area is sustainability. "From the early foundations of GAFTI we really were pushing for one entity to represent our industry with respect to sustainability and best practices associated with sustainability," Sinclair told delegates.

"We didn't want sustainability to follow the same patterns as compliance, where you have many, many derivatives of compliance generated mostly from our own organisations. And we were big advocates at the very beginning about rallying around the SAC."

GAFTI has previously estimated that around $2bn is spent by the industry each year on audits, a burden largely borne by suppliers in order to comply with the demands of different customers.

Separate figures suggest major retailers carry out up to 4,000 audits each year, and that in China alone around US$1bn is spent annually on auditing.