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Supply Chains Will Only Be Reformed When We Force Corporations to Do So

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I too am shocked that fashion companies intentionally have little clue about what goes on in their supply chains.

Few fashion brands are implementing measures to disclose details on their supply chain, according to Fashion Revolution. Any ethical breaches within many of the world’s 100 leading brands may be undetected. Worse still, they may be undetectable.

Fashion Revolution, a campaigning NGO, assessed the transparency scorings of brands’ supply chains. The research was conducted through a combination of questionnaires sent directly to the brands and direct research from websites and published policies.

No brand scored higher than a 50% level of transparency. Such a score would require that brands publish “detailed information about assessment and remediation findings and detailed supplier lists from manufacturing right down to raw materials”. This requirement would be a basic provision in the eyes of many consumers.

The report noted that:

While we are seeing brands share their policies and commitments, there is still much crucial information about the practices of the fashion industry that remains concealed, particularly when it comes to brands’ tangible impact on the lives of workers in the supply chain and on the environment.”

Shocking.

The area in which the researchers found the greatest weakness was in respect of traceability. This relates to brands’ publication of supplier information, their address, size and production details. Perhaps unsurprisingly for supply chain observers, few brands published anything beyond the first tier. 14 of the 100 provided details of second-tier suppliers. None provided information regarding raw material providers.

On ensuring that supplier staff have a reasonable quality of life, the report was critical:

34 out of the 100 brands have made public commitments to paying living wages to workers in the supply chain (such as through collective bargaining agreements or as part of the Fair Labor Association) but only four brands — H&M, Marks & Spencer, New Look and Puma — are reporting on progress towards achieving this aim.”

The implication here is that, aside from the published commitments, few tangible measures are undertaken to deliver the promise.

The inference of much of this report is that brands are aware of the ethical practices within the supply chain, but are reluctant to publish information. However, the truth may be more mundane, if worse. As we saw in the recent BBC investigation into Turkish fashion industry, many brands are outsourcing large portions of their supply chain to a highly fragmented supplier base. Such a cottage industry of patchwork producers is beyond the powers of most buyer teams to trace and monitor.

Simply put, the supply chain can be just a mystery to the brands as its consumers.

I discovered this exciting presentation of the apparel companies’ ideology here:

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This piece lets the fashion companies off way to easily. Their supply chains are mysteries because this is an intentional obfuscation. They don’t care what happens in those factories. Not knowing gives them protection, precisely through articles like this. This only changes when we as a society create legal requirements for supply chain monitoring, when we have an enforcement mechanism to fine companies for not making sure their materials are sourced ethically, and when we allow the workers affected by these processes the ability to use American courts to litigate for their rights. So long as this is voluntary and so long as companies can move around the world to play nations off against one another in a global race to the bottom while workers are stuck within their national legal systems, nothing meaningful will happen to ensure global worker justice.

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