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.
The Central America Project was launched in collaboration with FLA Participating Companies - including adidas Group, Nike, Inc., Gildan, Liz Claiborne, and PVH Corp. - to develop long-lasting mechanisms and tools to produce measurable improvements in workplace conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The project primarily focused on the issues of discrimination, harassment and abuse, and freedom of association in the apparel assembly or maquila sector.
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.
Raw materials supply chains are complex and often opaque. They may span multiple companies and can be difficult to trace. Companies’ efforts to ensure decent working conditions are focused mainly on their immediate suppliers. Typically, apparel and footwear companies focus on the finished goods produced in Tier 1 factories.
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.
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.
The Zeitz Foundation (ZF) was founded in 2008 with the intention of “achieving the highest standards in sustainability through the balance of conservation, community, culture and commerce in privately managed ecological areas”. It became the first nonprofit entity to affiliate with the Fair Labor Association in 2009 as a Participating Company.
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.
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.
In June 2013, the Dutch government, civil society organizations, and industry representatives collectively developed an action plan to improve the social, structural, ecological and economic conditions in global garment and textile supply chains.