April 04, 2017
Author: Christopher Cox
One of the regular questions we hear at The Human Thread is: “What can I do to buy better?” Generally, people are looking for a short and simple answer like “Don’t buy from this store, but buy from here” or “Don’t buy from this country, but buy from here” or “Use this handy guide” or “Buy only from second-hand shops.” Frankly, ethical purchasing is hard work, and there are no easy solutions.
Nonetheless, there are helpful tools. On this website, we occasionally share scorecards (like The Truth Behind the Barcode: Apparel Industry Trends) and fair trade guides for Milwaukee and Chicago. We share global evaluation’s like Know the Chain’s Apparel & Footwear Benchmark Findings Report. These guides, if the methodology was rigorous were valid during the research, but the passing of time naturally makes the data less accurate. We love Catholic Relief Services’ resource for Ethical Trade. (We have written more about it here.) Project Just has lots of great resources, including “Five questions to figure out which brands are legit.” Smart phones now have apps that help with ethical purchasing, like Good on You and Not My Style. If updated regularly, a cell phone app may provide more current data.
We’d love to hear from our readers about what you use to help guide your purchases. Feel free to post on the the thread in our Facebook page here:
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.