December 12, 2016
Author: Christopher Cox
While every scorecard comes with a caveat that none are perfect, we here at The Human Thread think that this scorecard is very important. Know The Chain, a San Francisco-based company that works with businesses and investors (including the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility) on issues of labor abuse, ranked 20 large apparel and footwear companies based on their efforts to eradicate forced labor and human trafficking from their supply chains.
This study shines light on the apparel brands that are making the greatest efforts to address exploitation. On topm footwear giant Adidas scored 81 points out of 100. Among apparel companies, Gap Inc. leads the way, scoring 77 points out of 100. Swedish fast fashion behemoth H & M and Canadian athletic apparel retailer Lululemon tied for third on the list, both scoring 69 points.
The rankings employed a sophisticated methodology of seven areas of measurement. The average score was 46 out of a possible 100. Sadly, luxury brands including Hugo Boss, Kering (holding company of Gucci, among others) and Ralph Lauren scored much lower than fast fashion retailers like H&M, Inditex or Primark. Three companies scored less than 25 out of 100 points: China’s number-one shoe retailer Belle International Holdings (0), Chinese clothing manufacturer Shenzhou International Group Holdings (1), and Prada (9).
Two areas of particular concerns are under the study’s headings of “Recruitment” and “Worker Voice and Remedy.” On the latter topic, the rankings also underscore that only four companies on the survey were rated as efficiently magnifying worker’s voices to upper management, and only five companies were found to engage workers outside of the context of their workplace in a manner that gives them more voice.
In the area of “Recuitment,” a place of major risk in forced labor and trafficking, companies fall short in their recruitment practices. Only six companies require that no fees be charged during any recruitment process conducted throughout the supply chain, and only two companies encourage direct hiring of workers in their supply chains. Poor recruitment practices, including excessive fees, leave workers vulnerable and open to exploitation, particularly through debt bondage.
The report suggests that these fundamental areas that leave workers vulnerable have yet to be addresses in significant ways by the retailers.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), around 21 million people are victims of forced labor globally, with the apparel and footwear industry an ‘at-risk’ sector, especially as it is a rapidly growing field of employment. While in 2000 the global garment industry employed around 20 million workers, this has at least tripled to 60- 75 million workers in 2014, three-quarters of whom are women.
Again, recalling the caveat that no scorecard is perfect, Know The Chain based the study on “assessed information available on each company’s own website, as well as additional public disclosure that 80% of the companies provided in response to engagement questions.” The information used to compile each company’s rank was self-supplied by the companies that were ranked. Thus, the reliability – or lack thereof – of the information provided by the ranked companies is a critical factor in terms of gauging the ranking’s accuracy.
The complete report can be found here: http://www.humanthreadcampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/KTC_AF_ExternalReport_Final.pdf
November 11, 2016
Author: Christopher Cox
After the devastating consequences of the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 killing 1,134 people, two organizations emerged for inspecting and auditing safety in workplaces. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created with independent and transparent reports of safety inspections and progress. The Accord’s Corrective Action Plans (CAPS) are detailed factory-level spreadsheets documenting inspection results, the required repairs and renovations, designated deadlines for each identified remediation item, and progress status on each item. The Accord CAPS are available at http://accord.fairfactories.org/ffcweb/Web/ManageSuppliers/InspectionReportsEnglish.aspx. It also in includes a critical voice for labor within the factories on health and safety issues. The other organization, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, established by global retailers including Gap, Target and Walmart, does not make the inspection reports public and lacks the free selection of workers for their representatives in factory health and safety committees. In spite of the Alliance’s lack of transparency, where side-by-side comparison is possible, a new study reports that the Alliance is giving passing grades to factories that have failed to implement critical safety repairs.
In 2013, when Gap, Target, Walmart, and 23 other North American companies refused to join with unions in a legally-binding agreement to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh, they announced their own corporate-controlled alternative. The report “Dangerous Delays on Worker Safety,” which was researched and written by the International Labor Relations Forum, the Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, and Maquila Solidarity Network, is the first independent investigation into the Alliance’s track record. It exposes a startling disconnect between the Alliance rating system and the actual conditions in the factories. Of 107 factories examined that are labelled by the Alliance as “On Track,” the report finds that:
These statistics, if accurate, are terrifying, and they have real world consequences. The report’s analysis alleges that there are 120,000 garment workers employed in the 62 factories that produce items for Walmart that do not have fully viable fire exits.
The Guardian has an excellent article on the report found here: Retail group approves Bangladesh factories as safety concerns persist, report finds.
If this is true, critical changes must happen within the Alliance as they have been publicly overstating progress and approving factories despite safety concerns. Right now, 29 companies are members of the Alliance: Ariela and Associates International LLC; Bon Worth; Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited; Carter’s Inc.; The Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc.; Costco Wholesale Corporation; Fruit of the Loom, Inc.; Gap Inc.; Giant Tiger; Hudson’s Bay Company; IFG Corp.; Intradeco Apparel; J.C. Penney Company Inc.; Jordache Enterprises, Inc.; The Just Group; Kate Spade & Company; Kohl’s Department Stores; L. L. Bean Inc.; M. Hidary & Company Inc.; Macy’s; Nine West Holdings, Inc.; Nordstrom Inc.; Public Clothing Company; Sears Holdings Corporation; Target Corporation; VF Corporation; and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; YM Inc.
As consumers, as people of faith, we share the concern with which the report concludes: “The Alliance’s approach to reporting safety progress legitimately raises the question whether the Alliance is prioritizing the protection of its member brands’ reputations over the protection of workers.”
Update: the Honorable Ellen O’Kane Tauscher, independent chair of the Board of The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), has issued a statement in response to the report found here in the Alliance website: http://www.bangladeshworkersafety.org/en/410-alliance-continues-to-improve-safety-in-bangladesh-garment-industry
August 08, 2016
Author: Christopher Cox
Fortune recognizes 50 companies annually in its “Change the World” list. The companies have had a positive social impact through activities that are part of their core business strategy. Fortune prioritizes companies with annual revenues of $1 billion or more from around the globe.
Three of the companies in the list are from the apparel industry. While The Human Thread has concerns about other practices with these companies, we recognize that some steps are being taken.
#17 Crystal Group
While grateful for the progress, much work remains to be done.
August 08, 2016
Author: Christopher Cox
Often enough, the few short images in a newspaper comic encapsulates enormous wisdom or, at least, raises troubling questions. Today’s comic from Sandra Bell-Lundy’s “Between Friends” artfully raises questions.
The main character in today’s sequence goes from jam-packed closet to jam-packed closet, trying find a place to put away some things. Bell-Lundy underscores what we already know: we have too much stuff. We buy five times more clothing annually today than we did 30 years ago. Realtors advertise walk-in closets. Americans rent storage space for our extra items. Often enough, we may have no idea how many things we have or where to find them. I will confess that I keenly saw my own shortcomings yesterday as a book arrived, and I realized that I already had a copy of it.
At heart, we might ask ourselves a couple of questions.
What do I own? What owns me?
The questions, derived from the late Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy, the late archbishop of Seattle, also became the title to Dan Conway‘s excellent book: What do I Own and What Owns Me?: A Spirituality of Stewardship. Both Archbishop Murphy and Conway can speak about stewardship much more eloquently than I can, but suffice it to say that our possessions can get in the way of our joyful discipleship is something that came from an even more eminent authority: Jesus. As we heard at Sunday’s liturgy (18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C): “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15).
The late comedian George Carlin talks about “My Stuff” (WARNING: the video link has some offensive language). Carlin observes: “That’s all your house is– a place to keep your stuff.” For many of us, our closets are full of things that we do not need, that we will not use, but we retain on the off-chance that it will be useful. It can fairly be said that our “stuff” owns us.
Spoiler alert: Conway believes that, for a Christian, when all is said and done we own nothing because we are possessed wholly and completely by “a good and gracious God.” Life is a gift to be cherished, shared, and given back to God with increase. Conversion and a deepening relationship with God call us to change our relationship with our “stuff.”
Organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo asks it in a slightly different manner: “What sparks joy?” in her book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. All the other things beyond that are unnecessary. Kondo suggests pulling out every item of clothing that one has and placing it together
Kondo urges for a “once-in-a-lifetime tidying marathon,” piling five categories of material possessions — clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items, including photos, in that order. Next, one surveys each item, noting the quantities of each category, seeing that it’s way too much and then holding each item to see if it “sparks joy.” Those that “spark joy” get to stay, and everything else gets a heartfelt and generous goodbye and then sent out. By the way, anything that was forgotten in a closet or a dresser is automatically discarded as it was forgettable. Kondo concludes that our lives are much more joyful without all the “stuff.”
Everything we buy has an impact that is both global and personal. Our way of purchasing things like clothing, chocolate, coffee, and cell phones also result in immense environmental damage and the trafficking of tens of millions of human persons. In the end, we do not need to buy so much “stuff,” and our lives may well be enhanced by letting go of a lot of “stuff.” And, maybe, little by little, we can be in right relationship with our possessions, our neighbor who makes our “stuff,” and our God.