Will retailers benefit from greater supply chain transparency?
Retailers have been changing the way they do business to appeal to, or avoid alienating, an increasingly socially conscious consumer base. But when it comes to apparel manufacturing, there remains a perception that a large chunk of production happens in overseas factories with unsavory, and perhaps inhumane, labor practices. But some big names in the apparel industry have been working to change that with a new kind of supply chain transparency.
Gap is the latest to join a growing list of apparel brands and retailers disclosing a list of factories where its products are produced, according to Human Rights Watch. Other big name brands such as Levis and New Balance as well as retailers including Target are also on the list. This transparency potentially allows for quicker identification and correction of human rights abuses.
A study last year by the same organization pointed to Gap, Adidas and Marks & Spencer as companies that sourced from factories in Cambodia in which human rights abuses were rampant, according to Salon. All of these companies now offer transparency into which factories they use.
The trend extends to other industries beyond apparel. Apple, for instance, publishes an extensive yearly supplier responsibility report on its website which details progress in areas such as protecting human rights and environmental practices. However, as recently as last year, the company came under criticism for human rights violations by suppliers in China discovered in an undercover investigation, according to International Business Times.
In apparel, the advent of fast-fashion has been of particular concern. The demand for cheap, quickly made clothing has led to allegations that suppliers are compromising worker safety and wellbeing.
Technological innovation may offer another avenue to meet the demands of the buying public without relying on people doing work in dangerous conditions. Adidas, for instance, recently introduced a SpeedFactory which quickly creates localized and customized shoes with minimal human involvement.
- Gap Inc. Joins Global Brands That Publish Factory List – Human Right Watch
- The slave labor behind your favorite clothing brands: Gap, H&M and more exposed – Salon
- Supplier Responsibility – Apple
- iPhone 6s factory investigation reveals Apple still violates human rights of workers – International Business Times
- The Hidden Cost of Fast Fashion: Worker Safety – Bloomberg
- Will Adidas’s SpeedFactory disrupt shoe production? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retailers make it a point to publish information about the factories that manufacture clothing and other products? Will the demand to make this information public drive lasting changes in product sourcing?