Transparent Supply Chains… Struggle and Success Continues
Five companies – Walmart, Primark, Forever21, Urban Outfitters and Armani, were recently the target of a campaign – ‘Follow the Thread’, signed by 70,000 people demanding transparency in the supply chain and public disclosure of the names of the factories which produce apparel for these brands and retailers. Throughout January, activists of Clean Cloth Campaign, Human Rights Watch and International Labor Rights Forum delivered golden boxes of signatures to stores around the world of these fashion and retail giants including Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Brussels and Zagreb. Activists are continuously insisting for following of minimum global standard of transparency for the garment sector under the ‘Apparel And Footwear Supply Chain Transparency Pledge’.
Last year 17 brands (ASICS, New Look, NEXT, ASOS, Clarks, and the Pentland Brands, etc.) were convinced, and committed to publish information about the factories they source from, including addresses and number of workers. However, the above mentioned five companies considered to be among the most secretive regarding their supply chain data, refused to commit to a more transparent supply chain by signing the pledge. Proactive worker groups are of the strong view that transparency in supply chains will help prevent the need for drastic measures after some ‘unfortunate’ incidents in apparel manufacturing hubs. “Any brand that refuses to share information about their supply chain should be a huge red flag for consumers. What are these brands hiding? Do they even know where their clothes are coming from? If brands are taking the necessary steps to prevent labour abuses in their supply chains, then they should eagerly share detailed information about the factories and workers who make their clothes with the public,” says Ben Vanpeperstraete of Clean Clothes Campaign.
But, it would seem that these companies are not completely unaffected and on February
7th, Primark released its list of manufacturers and suppliers
(names and addresses) which covers more than 1,050 factories across 31 countries. Though, this list does not show where each product is manufactured, but it does give an overall picture. It includes
550 Chinese, 173 Indian and 89 Bangladeshi factories. The list also gives an overview of the number of employees in each factory and the male-female split. “We will review and update the information on the map twice a year, although we may choose to remove a factory between formal updates, if we are no longer using a particular factory as a supplier,” the company says in an official communique. Primark had not published details of its suppliers’ factories up to now as it regarded this information, giving them commercial advantage. However, with 98% of the factories making products for Primark and also manufacturing for other brands, with a number of those retailers now publishing details of their sourcing, the company has finally taken the decision to share information. Paul Lister, Head, Ethical Trade Team at Primark shared that the company did not disclose its suppliers’ list earlier due to competition, but now it no longer wants to avoid the industry trend seeking greater transparency.
The reality is that, it is not as if companies don’t want to make their supply chain public but there are some issues that first need to be sorted out. Recently Apparel Online raised this issue to Chris L Grayer, Global Code of Practice Manager, NEXT Retail Ltd., during his India visit and he was of the opinion that NEXT is ready to make its supplier list public and is working on some legal angles before putting it into the public domain. “We believe in transparency and continue to develop that. It is a good thing because more the transparency, the stronger the collaboration,” he said. Last year in 2017, 79 European civil society organizations sent an appeal for more transparency in the garment industry to the European Commission. Experts feels that there are polarities when it comes to transparent supply chains. There are organic and farm-to-farm-to-fork movement in food services that use supply chain transparency as a competitive advantage and marketing strategy but at the same time, there are companies who don’t disclose their suppliers. These are often highly cost-driven
"THERE IS NO REASON WE SHOULD NOT KNOW WHO MAKES OUR CLOTHES. ALL PEOPLE DESERVE DIGNITY AND RESPECT FOR THE WORK THEY DO."
companies in a competitive market where every supplier relationship is critical to their success. Supply Chain Dive is of the opinion that protecting confidential pricing information is often the driver in purposely maintaining opaque supply chains. It further adds that there may be a darker side as well, as they may be trying to hide their supply chains due to the maladies common in some low-cost country sourcing relationships. As usual the important question that arise here is that will the customers or these activists pay more to such companies who are quite transparent and having disadvantage to share their manufacturers names and address who are spreading across the globe.
In a proactive stand, H&M says that strong, long-term relations with suppliers, based on mutual trust and transparency, allows it to disclose the names and locations, as well as some additional information of their factories without major concerns about the ongoing competition on the best available production capacity in apparel industry. It also adds that this step of making their name public incentivises suppliers for increasingly taking ownership over their sustainability and that it recognises the progress they make. H&M is first major fashion brand to openly communicate the names and locations of the most important mills that provide its suppliers with fabrics and yarns. These are fabric and yarn mills making about 60% of the pieces produced for the H&M group.
Chris L Grayer, Global Code of Practice Manager, NEXT Retail Ltd.
Paul Lister, Head, Ethical Trade Team at Primark