Over the last few years the fashion sector has seen an impressive push towards “green” and “ethical” manufacturing and sourcing. While there are a growing number of initiatives certifying the production standards for some of the raw materials, little information is available for labor standards in the rest of the supply chain. Labor standards are not systematically evaluated in many global supply chains, often meaning that wages and working conditions are pushed downward in a race to the bottom to enable consumers to purchase cut-rate fashion.
Cotton is a commodity used across the apparel industry - clothing, footwear, headwear, etc. Concerns in the cotton production sector include child labor, worker health and safety due to the use of pesticides, and other violations of human, labor or environmental rights. In some countries, state-sanctioned forced child labor is used to pick cotton. Apparel companies leading the CSR movement need to broaden their focus and examine sourcing of raw materials to make sure that their factories are not using “dirty” cotton, tainted with violations of worker rights.
Many companies have supply chains extending beyond factories to informal settings where accessories or embellishment processes are completed. People working in the informal sector – artisan clusters, home workers, micro-producers and marginalized communities – are particularly vulnerable given the unregulated nature of those workplaces. Companies do not always have the means or tools to monitor them, and are unaware of the social impact of their intervention on those groups.
In 2011, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) launched a study of corn and sunflower production to develop a better understanding of the agriculture sector in Romania. The study was conducted in collaboration with a representative from the international NGO Human Resources without Borders, and an independent Romanian auditor named Mariana Petcu. The aim of this research was to understand the production processes of corn and sunflower seeds and to map the labor risks with regards to labor laws and FLA’s Workplace Code of Conduct in Romania.
The Jo-In Project was a collaborative effort of six leading international labor rights and code implementation organizations, including the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Fair Labor Association (FLA), Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), Social Accountability International (SAI), and Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). The Jo-In project focused on enhancing collaboration among these organizations to identify best practices in the field of code implementation.
The Fair Labor Association (FLA) conducted this task and risk mapping study in India in 2004 to assess the labor risks in cottonseed farms, with a focus on child labor; to map potential internal and external workplace monitoring systems; and to map local remedial programs. The study consolidates data from two assessment visits made in April 2004 and October 2004 to Andra Pradesh (AP) and Gujarat, two of the largest hybrid cottonseed producing states in India.
The ENABLE Project is an FLA initiative targeted toward the agricultural sector. Activities include: agricultural monitoring; remediation; capacity building activities; and stakeholder engagement.
The stakeholder engagement component is an ENABLE initiative that seeks input from local and international experts on agricultural monitoring, remediation and capacity building efforts. These consultations are organized with the overall objective of enhancing the effectiveness and relevance of the work the FLA is undertaking in the agriculture sector.
In January 2012, the Fair Labor Association (FLA) launched a study of soy and corn seeds in Brazil to develop a better understanding of the local conditions, practices and labor standards in the country's agriculture sector. The study was conducted with an independent external expert, and data was collected through meetings with stakeholders including Instituto Ethos, a leading CSR organization in Brazil; and union representatives from Sindicato dos trabalhadores rurais de Minas Gerais in Serra do Salitre and Sindicato de trabalhadores rurais de Uberlandia of Uberlandia.
Globalization has led to the emergence of low cost, efficient (and perhaps risky) supply chains spanning multiple countries. Sourcing regions exhibit a wide range of economic, political, social, labor and environmental standards, which – combined with heightened public awareness – means that full traceability of a product and its components is likely to become a consistent demand made by governments, civil society organizations, and consumers. In response, companies must make supply chain mapping and product tracing a standard business practice.
Vietnam plays an important role in the apparel and footwear sector, and at the time of the launch of this project, was the second-largest country of production for FLA Participating Companies. In 2011, 355 suppliers employing more than 800,000 workers manufactured products for FLA Participating Companies in Vietnam.