Trans­par­ent Sup­ply Chains… Strug­gle and Suc­cess Con­tin­ues

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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


Kyla, US

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

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