Labour and Human Rights Groups Urge Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives and Business Associations in the Apparel Sector to Adopt Transparency Requirements

Photo: Guldhammer

Author: Clean Clothes Campaign, Human Rights Watch, IndustriALL, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, International Labor Rights Forum, International Trade Union Confederation, Maquila Solidarity Network, UNI Global Union, Worker Rights Consortium

In response to requests from trade unions, and other independent labor rights and human rights organizations, on February 27 the Fair Labor Association (FLA) voted to require its company affiliates to publicly disclose their supplier lists. Details concerning the implementation of this decision, including the scope of disclosure, remain to be seen. However, if the FLA follows this decision with robust enforcement of this requirement for its member companies, it will be a significant development towards greater transparency and corporate accountability for garment workers’ rights in global supply chains. Members of the Transparency Pledge Coalition, a group of global unions and other independent labor rights and human rights organizations, will be monitoring this decision to ensure its full and meaningful implementation while calling on other apparel sector Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) and business associations to follow suit.

During the early 2000s, at the request of student activists, U.S. universities began requiring apparel brands that manufactured their licensed apparel to disclose the names and locations of their supplier factories, a practice that, due to ongoing engagement by labor rights and human rights advocates has since been adopted by dozens of other brands. The disclosure of this information is a foundational element of human rights due diligence. It is also a necessary first step towards accountability when labor and human rights violations occur. Supply chain transparency allows workers, their unions, and other labor rights advocates to ascertain for which apparel brand workers are producing garments, giving them the opportunity to raise labor rights grievances and violations of brands’ own codes of conduct directly to brands.

The nine organizations that are members of the Transparency Pledge Coalition – Clean Clothes Campaign, Human Rights Watch, IndustriALL, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, International Labor Rights Forum, International Trade Union Confederation, Maquila Solidarity Network, UNI Global Union, and Worker Rights Consortium – believe that transparency builds stakeholder trust by signaling company commitment to accountability. Since its inception in 2016, the Coalition has successfully convinced numerous apparel brands to adopt its minimum standard on transparency and persuaded many others to take meaningful steps in the right direction. This decision by the FLA follows the Transparency Pledge Coalition’s request that the FLA require supply chain disclosure as a condition of membership.

“While disclosure of factory lists will not automatically lead to improved working conditions on the ground, it is a critical first step towards that goal. In addition to enhancing companies’ due diligence, it strengthens accountability by enabling workers and their advocates to bring human rights abuses to the attention of the brands for which they are producing. Other MSIs should take note of the FLA’s decision and follow suit. Transparency is becoming a cornerstone of responsible business conduct against which all companies should be measured,” said Nicole Vander Meulen, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable’s Legal and Policy Coordinator.

“Transparency needs to be a cornerstone of any serious effort by brands to build a supply chain free from serious rights abuses,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior women’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The FLA’s decision is a significant step forward, and others need to follow.”

The Coalition will continue to engage with the FLA’s Factory List Transparency Working Group to ensure that there is robust implementation. Companies should no longer be allowed to hide behind opaque supply chains.