By Amna Bajwa, Writer & Researcher, THR3EFOLD
The fashion industry needs a makeover. But with upwards of 60 million workers worldwide and as one of the top polluting industries, the reality of this makeover can seem overwhelming. We all know strength comes in numbers, but can brands actually work with factories and government to make ethical and sustainable fashion simply...fashion? We say yes! Here’s how.
BRANDS + FACTORIES
Your brand’s purchasing practices (how you engage with factories) and sourcing practices (where your goods come from and how) are critical to reducing environmental impacts and improving the lives of garment workers worldwide.
Stop Unrealistic Timelines
In its Guide to Buying Responsibly, the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) details how purchasing practices (such as purchase orders, contract negotiations, lead times) directly impact factories’ abilities to comply with ethical production and labor standards, and potentially increase negative impacts on garment workers. For example, when brands increasingly demand faster turnarounds from suppliers, not only can it lead to lower quality products, but it also pushes factories to increase working hours and can undermine ethical labor practices.
ETI, one of many organizations working to improve responsible purchasing practices, identifies how brands can collaboratively build a comprehensive Human Rights Due Diligence Framework with their factory and supplier partners. At first glance, yes, it’s A LOT of work that will take time. But we know that it’s worth it – ethical buying practices will improve product quality, enhance the brand’s reputation, manage risk in supply chains, and most importantly, improve the livelihoods of garment workers.
Create a Purchasing Plan
Before taking on the huge task of building a due diligence framework, brands can start with the following steps to be part of the ethical fashion movement:
1 | Assess current purchasing practices: are there written standards in place, and how does the actual purchasing process play out?
2 | Educate your team on how purchasing practices impact factories. Do all your teams know their impact on factories when placing and negotiating purchase orders?
3 | Review your sourcing strategy and ensure it reflects international human rights standards. Better yet – do you have a go-to portfolio of your known ethical suppliers that that champion the best labor and environmental practices in line with your brand’s ethical standards?
Demand Clear Manufacturing Standards
Factory standards can be super confusing, and if you have no experience with them you are basically at the mercy of whatever you’re told. THR3EFOLD only works with ethically certified factories because they have gone through the lengthy and expensive process to ensure they treat people and planet at a high standard.
First, ask your factory if they have ethical certifications, and to share them with you. If they don’t have any, ask if they would consider getting one, and what factors will go into their decision. (If you purchase enough from them, they may be interested…) If they’re not ready, ask if they would walk you through their standards for people and planet.
By starting the dialogue and learning their standards on employee pay, hours, waste management, etc., you can see how it matches up with your brand’s ethical standards.
BRANDS + GOVERNMENT
After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, unions and increased federal regulation played key roles in building the high standards that the American workforce enjoys today. At THR3EFOLD we believe that profit and capitalism are catalysts for creating opportunities and long term sustainable employment globally. However we recognize that businesses can slip on standards and that’s where government can help.
Governments are starting to take notice of the importance of transparency in apparel supply chains, but there are some loopholes. For the companies that meet the revenue threshold, there aren’t mandatory types of disclosure or requirements for what corrective practices are in place in case human rights abuses do occur. And, more importantly, the thresholds are so high that many major brands are exempt from any reporting requirements. Even though some brands voluntarily disclose this information, legislation is needed for a mass industry shift. So far, we’ve seen some progress:
As companies can be more nimble and innovative than their political counterparts, we need governments to set high federal standards for the manufacturing of imported goods and companies can creatively rise to the occasion. Our eyes are peeled for updates around the world, and the good news is, there are more shifts in the right direction:
The important thing to remember is that increasing the standards for the people and planet through fashion will undoubtedly be a team effort and take some time. If we can all figure out our our part to play in relation to each of our partners, we will collectively move the needle forward.
If you are interested in working with a trusted factory operating at high ethical and environmental standards, apply here and get started today.