Supply Chain Innovation

Dallas Cowboys Merchandising: Accreditation Interview

Monday, May 9, 2016


At the Fair Labor Association (FLA) Board of Directors meeting in February of 2016, Dallas Cowboys Merchandising (DCM) earned accreditation for its social compliance program.  As a smaller company, DCM shares that while they faced unique challenges that some larger companies with more social compliance staff may not face, the journey toward accreditation helped them enhance their program and their company’s commitment to workers’ rights.

 “Our hope in doing this interview is to encourage other companies of our size that are considering accreditation with the FLA not to be intimidated by the process,” says Audrey Ogawa Johnson, Head of Compliance, for DCM.  “We’re proof that it’s possible, and not only can they find support within the FLA to help them, we’re always happy to share what we’ve learned as well.”

We asked Audrey to tell us more about Dallas Cowboys’ work to achieve accreditation, their commitment to workers’ freedom of association, and how the development of a pre-sourcing scorecard helps DCM enact a strong social compliance program.

FLA:   Congratulations on achieving accreditation for Dallas Cowboys’ social compliance program.   What does accreditation for Dallas Cowboys’ social compliance program mean for your company?

Dallas Cowboys Merchandising (DCM):  We were very excited to reach this point, and we think the accreditation process has been a useful development roadmap for the evolution of our social compliance program.   While we already had a program in place when we joined the FLA, the accreditation process helped create a framework for internal discussions on how our program should develop.  The structure of the accreditation program helped us make progress in a much more organized and faster way than doing it on our own.   It helped us align internally on areas we could build on, and helped us create a timeline for action.

FLA:  What was your biggest challenge in working to achieve accreditation?

DCM:   Our biggest challenges were probably related to our size, because DCM is not a large company.  The FLA works with companies of all sizes, and it applies the same principles to all companies, regardless of size. We agree with that approach, but for a smaller company, the social compliance work is all concentrated in one, maybe two, positions, which is a real challenge.

Obviously that’s balanced out somewhat by the smaller number of factories we’re working with, but certain aspects of social compliance require a similar amount of effort and thought, regardless of the company size or number of suppliers  -- such as how you set up your benchmarks, or how you think through your stakeholder engagement strategy.  For example, on stakeholder engagement, a smaller company has to overcome the fact that it might not have compliance staff based in all the major sourcing countries that they work in, with appropriate language capabilities, and the ability to interact on a regular basis.

So we had to make adjustments for that.   Our initial focus for stakeholder outreach has been on Central America, and we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had encouragement and input from so many different people – from labor organizations and other companies, both within and outside of the US.

FLA:   While pursuing accreditation, Dallas Cowboys participated with the FLA and other companies in investigating and working to remediate a Third Party Complaint regarding violations of freedom of association rights in Honduras.  What are your reflections on the effectiveness of the Third Party Complaint process?

DCM:   When issues occur in a factory shared by FLA affiliates, the Third Party Complaint process provides an opportunity for affiliates to work together to address the issues.  The process is there to encourage interaction and focus, and in the Honduras example, the FLA helped facilitate communication with the union as well.  Sometimes it can be challenging for a local stakeholder to get their message out to the brands, and the FLA helps bridge that gap.


FLA:  Your accreditation report notes that the Dallas Cowboys Code of Conduct contains a strongly worded element on freedom of association.  Can you elaborate on Dallas Cowboys’ commitment to freedom of association rights?

DCM:  We understand that freedom of association is a foundational principle underpinning support of good labor standards.   It provides a fundamental counterbalance, especially where enforcement of labor laws is weak, and that’s important.   So, in our code provision, in addition to supporting the principle of freedom of association, we require that employers provide workers with avenues to express their grievances without retaliation, and where unions are restricted by law, workers can use legal alternative means to freely associate and bargain collectively.

FLA:  Your report also points out Dallas Cowboys’ use of a “factory scorecard” and a pre-sourcing audit program.   Can you explain what you look for in a pre-sourcing audit and how these steps help ensure adherence to labor standards in factories producing for Dallas Cowboys?

DCM:   Our pre-sourcing audit helps us get a sense of a factory’s working conditions, and its leadership’s willingness to meet our code requirements.   Ideally we’re looking for supplier partners that have a commitment to good working standards and that demonstrate the ability to implement our code requirements.  The new evaluation process provides us a sense of what suppliers’ commitment looks like – and not everybody passes, which doesn’t mean that every factory is perfect coming into our supply chain, but this shows that the process is working.  

The scorecard process is still new and evolving.  It was developed to help us assess factories in our supply base over time, and gives us a way to translate compliance information into data that we can use to explain social compliance priorities to our sourcing team, our president and our executives.

FLA:  Does the scorecard include a section for each element of the FLA and DCM Code of Conduct?

DCM: There’s a portion that’s structured following our code, and also portions related to transparency, recurring issues in the factory, and responsiveness to company action plans and other compliance communication.   We have a country analysis that we try to do on a regular basis, so country risk comes into it too.

FLA:  How is a commitment to freedom of association measured on the scorecard?

DCM:  The freedom of association section is contextual, so certain questions get triggered if there are unions present, and other questions if there are no unions present.  We’re also looking at whether there were issues identified in audits.  Most importantly, freedom of association issues may come up in the worker interviews.  We also welcome feedback from external stakeholders that may have information on freedom of association issues.  It’s not like health and safety, it’s oftentimes not obvious, and that’s where our stakeholder engagement strategy comes into play.

FLA:  If you have one piece of advice for a similar company pursuing accreditation of its social compliance program with the FLA, what would it be?

DCM:   One of the key reasons we joined the FLA is the opportunity the FLA provides to collaborate with others.  So, I would encourage affiliates on the accreditation path to reach out to us – we would be happy to share our experience and what we’ve learned.  There’s a lot of knowledge within all caucuses of the FLA, and something we really benefited from and are thankful for is how open everyone was within the business, university, and civil society constituencies who shared their ideas, information, and encouragement with us.  I think for the individuals who are building compliance programs in smaller companies,  they’re driving the work by themselves, and so it can be helpful to reach out to a colleague within the FLA and just get a little bit of encouragement, and be able to bounce ideas off other people. 

FLA:  Is there an example of how FLA collaboration has benefited your program?

DCM:   We’ve started to collaborate with other FLA companies on our own audits, trying to reduce audit fatigue for suppliers and also address our lack of leverage because we are so small.   The collaboration enables a supplier to focus more on addressing root causes of issues, rather than preparing for the exact same audit from a different buyer.  It’s a more efficient approach.   

FLA:  The FLA model encourages continuous improvement for all affiliates.   What is Dallas Cowboys’ next step in improving conditions for workers in its supply chain?

DCM:    One of the projects we started in 2015 and are continuing in 2016 is to research and better understand the grievance procedures available at all of our suppliers.   And the second is to work with a multi-stakeholder effort – the Americas Group – to better understand and address the issues facing women workers in Central America. 

BELOW:  Sourcing coutries for DCM at the time of accreditation.

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