Blog: Leonie BarrieSweat-free or spin?

Leonie Barrie | 12 October 2005

Jeans giant Levi Strauss has become the latest clothing brand to wear its sourcing credentials on its sleeve – following in the footsteps of Nike which in April this year published a list of the names and locations of its 715 suppliers. Partly in response to demands from consumers who want to know where and under what conditions their clothes are made, Levi’s list details more than 750 active owned-and-operated and contract factories producing Levi’s, Dockers and Levi Strauss Signature branded products.

However, the move is not only designed to make the company more transparent for ethical reasons; Levi Strauss sees corporate responsibility as a way of improving its performance rather than just protecting its reputation. For instance, it says it hopes similar levels of transparency will become the norm across the apparel sector, making it easier to devise common standards among brands using the same contract manufacturers.

And surely, when brands are working together on compliance issues the whole problem of factory monitoring becomes more effective and less burdensome, allowing suppliers to focus time and resources on making improvements that benefit workers – and making clothes of course. Attention to one aspect of staff management often leads to improvement in others. Which can’t be a bad thing. I’m sure we’ve all visited factories where a constant stream of inspections from each and every one of their customers or their nominated CSR agents, often several times a year, not only disrupts production but is a costly exercise for everyone concerned.

But if it’s really such a positive push, why hasn’t it been more widespread until now? Maybe criticism from human rights groups has had something to do with it in the past. Or fear of giving away too much information to competitors. It’s all too easy to be sceptical when companies boast how socially responsible they are – but is there really anything wrong with retailers and manufacturers adopting ethical sourcing as their new sales pitch?

As long as everyone benefits there will be more than enough of an incentive to continue. 

LS&CO responsible sourcing information can be found here


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