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UK fashion brands still lacking transparency in their supply chains

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Although many high street fashion retailers and footwear brands are starting to recognise their responsibilities towards both their workers and consumers there still remains a lot of work to be done when it comes to supply chain transparency. Even though apparel brands have taken important steps towards greater accountability following the Rana Plaza factory collapse four years ago, there is still more work to be done in order to identify and prevent human rights abuses within supply chains, according to a new report: ‘Follow the Thread: The Need for Supply Chain Transparency in the Garment and Footwear Industry.’

The report, which was created by a coalition of nine labour and humans rights organisations and global unions, highlights the lack of transparency within UK apparel and footwear brands supply chains as well as the commitments made by a number of UK brands to share more information about their supply chains. In 2016, the coalition asked 72 fashion companies around the world, asking them to pledge to publish more information about their supply chains. As seen in the Fashion Transparency Index released earlier this week, most fashion brands keep the majority of this type of information hidden, even though greater transparency is a critical step towards preventing human rights abuses among garment workers.

New report calls for greater transparency in fashion brands supply chains

In addition to facing low wages, garment workers also can be faced with unsafe working conditions, insecure working contracts, threats of violence and intimidation as well as the suppression of union activity. However, the report notes that if more information concerning where UK apparel and footwear are made and in what condition, then workers, unions, civil society organisations and UK citizens will be able to hold brands accountable for the conditions with their supply chains. At the moment several UK fashion brands have pledged to greater transparency within their supply chain.

or example, Asos, Clarks, Next, New Look and Pentland Brands have all made commitments to making their full supply chain information public in 2017. Other fashion high-street companies, such as Arcadia Group (which owns Topshop/Topman) and Debenham’s are moving in the right direction and have committed to publishing information on where their ‘cut, make and trim’ suppliers are location in 2017. Then, there are retailers like John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Tesco, who already have transparency practices which fall short of the pledge standards.

“We welcome the commitments by leading UK garment and shoe brands to disclose their supply chain information,” commented Nicola Round, Campaigns Manager at Labour Behind the Label, which represents the Clean ClothesCampaign in the UK. “These companies have recognised their obligations to prevent human rights abuses, and they see that it makes good sense to show they are not afraid to be held accountable for working conditions in their supply chains.”

Unfortunately, in spite of the growing number of brands pledging to become more transparent, there remains a group of UK fashion brands who have not made any commitments in terms of supply chain transparency, such as retail giant Primark, as well as Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s. Other apparel retailers, like Shop Direct, River Island, Matalan and Sports Direct did not respond to the coalition request and currently do not publish any supply chain information, raising concern for potential human rights abuse in their supply chains.

“This is just a first step and much more needs to be done,” continues Round. “We will continue to work with brands and workers’ organisations to improve transparency and ensure fair and safe conditions for the people – mainly women – who make clothes and shoes for our high street stores. We are working in particular for change in the shoe industry, where workers are exposed to toxic chemicals, and women homeworkers have few rights. Labour Behind the Label will be launching a new campaign in May to build on the great work of the coalition and encourage footwear brands to commit to disclosure of information, to improve conditions in their factories and for the thousands of unrecognised and exploited homeworkers.”

Homepage illustration credit: © 2017 Brian Stauffer for Human Rights Watch

Photo credit Rana Plaza: AFP - Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / ANADOLU AGENCY

Photo credit factory workers: Primark

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