The garment and footwear industry stretches around the world. Clothes and shoes sold in stores in the US, Canada, Europe, and other parts of the world typically travel across the globe. They are cut and stitched in factories in Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, or other regions. Factory workers in Bangladesh or Romania could have made clothes only weeks ago that consumers elsewhere are eagerly picking up.
When global supply chains are opaque, consumers often lack meaningful information about where their apparel was made. A T-shirt label might say “Made in China,” but in which of the country’s thousands of factories was this garment made? And under what conditions for workers?
There is a growing trend of global apparel companies adopting supply chain transparency—starting with publishing the names, addresses, and other important information about factories manufacturing their branded products. Such transparency is a powerful tool for promoting corporate accountability for garment workers’ rights in global supply chains.
Transparency can ensure identification of global apparel companies whose branded products are made in factories where bosses abuse workers’ rights. Garment workers, unions, and nongovernmental organizations can call on these apparel companies to take steps to ensure that abuses stop and workers get remedies.
Publishing supply chain information builds the trust of workers, consumers, labor advocates, and investors, and sends a strong message that the apparel company does not fear being held accountable when labor rights abuses are found in its supply chain. It makes a company’s assertion that it is concerned about labor practices in its supplier factories more credible.
The need for information about factories involved in production for global brands has become painfully clear in recent years through deadly incidents that have plagued the garment industry.
The Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013 killed over 1,100 garment workers and injured more than 2,000. In the year before the collapse, two factory fires—one in Pakistan’s Ali Enterprises factory and another in Bangladesh’s Tazreen Fashions factory—killed more than 350 workers and left many others with serious disabilities. These were the deadliest garment factory fires in nearly a century.
A man removes clothing bearing a brand label from the devastated area of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Friday, April 26, 2013.
©2013 Jeff Holt/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Until these tragedies occurred, virtually no public information was available concerning apparel companies that were sourcing from the factories involved. The only way to identify these apparel companies and advocate for accountability was to interview survivors and rummage through the rubble afterward to find brand labels.
A system of corporate accountability that requires people to scramble on the ground for brand labels is the antithesis of “transparency.”
Over the past decade, a growing number of global apparel companies have published information on their websites about factories that manufacture their branded products. For more than a decade, adidas, Levi Strauss, Nike, Patagonia, and Puma have been publishing information on their supplier factories. Over time, more apparel companies and retailers with own-brand products joined them, posting some information about supplier factories on their websites.
As more companies adopt supply chain transparency, it is becoming a cornerstone of responsible business conduct in the garment sector. Increasingly, brands and retail chains are beginning to understand that being an ethical business requires them to publish where their own-brand clothes or footwear are being made.
Tracing Supply Chain Transparency in the Garment Industry
Until less than two decades ago, no major apparel company published its global supplier factories network. The companies viewed the identity of supplier factories as sensitive business information, and thought disclosure would put them at a competitive disadvantage.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, major apparel brands Nike and adidas began disclosing the names and addresses of factories that produced US collegiate apparel. This was a result of a campaign led by a campus network, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), in dozens of universities. Universities included supply chain disclosure as part of their licensing agreements with top athletic apparel companies that produced their college logo apparel.
Subsequently, in 2005, Nike and adidas went further by publishing information about all of their supplier factories for all products—not just collegiate licensed apparel.
Over the past decade, a growing number of other global apparel companies, including North American companies with no connection to the US collegiate apparel sector like Levi Strauss and Patagonia, as well as some European apparel companies, began publishing supplier factory information.
Apparel Companies Publishing Supplier Factory Information in 2016
As of December 2016, the following apparel companies were among those that published some supply chain information about their branded products:
adidas, C&A, Columbia Sportswear, Cotton On Group, Disney, Esprit, Forever New, Fruit of the Loom, Gap Inc., G-Star RAW, Hanesbrands, H&M Group, Hudson’s Bay Company, Jeanswest, Levi Strauss, Lindex, Marks and Spencer, Mountain Equipment Co-op, New Balance, Nike, Pacific Brands, PAS Group, Patagonia, Puma, Specialty Fashion Group, Target USA, VF Corporation, Wesfarmers Group (Kmart and Target Australia, and Coles), and Woolworths.
This is not a comprehensive list.
This report takes stock of supply chain transparency in the garment industry four years after the industry disasters in Bangladesh and Pakistan that shook the global garment industry. To build momentum toward supply chain transparency and develop industry minimum standards, a coalition of labor and human rights groups asked 72 companies to agree to implement a simple Transparency Pledge. It also asked that companies declining to commit to the Pledge provide reasons for choosing not to do so. Where companies engaged with the coalition, the coalition also sought additional information about their existing transparency practices. This report explains the logic and the urgency behind the Pledge and describes the responses we received from the companies contacted. Further information about the apparel companies contacted, the reasons for choosing them, and the coalition’s engagement process is outlined in Appendix I.
Supply chain transparency practices vary immensely among companies. Among those apparel companies that embrace transparency, the details they publish are inconsistent. Many other companies refuse to publish supplier factory information at all, or divulge only scant information. Some companies attempt to justify non-disclosure on commercial grounds. But their explanations are belied by the experiences of other similarly situated companies that do publish and have shown that the benefits of disclosure outweigh perceived risks.
Ultimately apparel companies can do far more than implement the Pledge to ensure respect for human rights in their supply chains. Nonetheless, this is one important step in a holistic effort to improve corporate accountability in the garment industry.
Civil Society Coalition on Garment Industry Transparency
In 2016, nine labor and human rights organizations formed a coalition to advocate for transparency in apparel supply chains. Coalition members are:
• Global unions: IndustriALL Global Union, International Trade Union Confederation, and UNI Global Union.
• International labor and human rights organizations that focus on the apparel
sector: Human Rights Watch, Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, Worker Rights Consortium, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, and International Labor Rights Forum.
• The coalition endorsed the Transparency Pledge as a minimum standard for supply chain disclosure. The Pledge is based on existing, positive industry practices. See below for more information on the Pledge.
If you cannot visualize this document, click HERE
If you cannot visualize it, download Adobe Reader by clicking www.get.adobe.com/reader/