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ILRF report lays out roadmap for transforming global apparel industry

"The International Labor Rights Forum’s new paper, ‘Future of Fashion: Worker-Led Strategies for Corporate Accountability in the Global Apparel Industry,’ highlights corporate social responsibility (CSR) and multi-stakeholder initiatives have failed to address and remedy the persistent exploitation of millions of apparel industry workers. The eight-storey Bangladeshi Rana Plaza collapsed on the April 24, 2013, killing at least 1,134 apparel workers and leaving 2,500 others injured. Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly in the global apparel industry. "

 

ILRF report lays out roadmap for transforming global apparel industry 002The International Labor Rights Forum’s new paper, ‘Future of Fashion: Worker-Led Strategies for Corporate Accountability in the Global Apparel Industry,’ highlights corporate social responsibility (CSR) and multi-stakeholder initiatives have failed to address and remedy the persistent exploitation of millions of apparel industry workers. The eight-storey Bangladeshi Rana Plaza collapsed on the April 24, 2013, killing at least 1,134 apparel workers and leaving 2,500 others injured. Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly in the global apparel industry. In previous year also, two factory fires – one in Pakistan’s Ali Enterprises factory and another in Bangladesh’s Tazreen Fashions factory – had killed more than 350 apparel workers and left many others permanently disabled. Surprisingly, all three factory buildings had passed safety inspections by corporate-funded auditors.

Dealing with complex global supply chains

The global apparel industry is characterised by complex global supply chains operated by large multinational brands/retailers, like Gap and Walmart. These brands/retailers outsource production to factories in developing nations. This model of outsourced, globalised production enables MNC brands and retailers to increase profits besides insulating themselves from legal liability for working conditions in the factories making their products.

Responding to NGO campaigns, trade union pressure, and media exposés of sweatshop abuses in the 1990s, MNCs adoptedILRF report lays out roadmap for transforming global apparel industry 001 private, voluntary codes of conduct those require their suppliers to comply with minimum labor standards. Monitoring of compliance with these codes is largely left to third-party social auditing firms that conduct short, annual visits to the factories to assess working conditions.

Critics have pointed out the shortcomings of this model, including extreme time pressures on auditors leading to superficial “check-the-box” assessments, the absence of meaningful consultations with workers or trade unions during the audit process, a lack of transparency with regard to the audit results, and a failure to correct violations, even when serious problems are detected.

Notably, most CSR models fail to address a fundamental root cause of labor violations and poor working conditions: the sourcing and purchasing practices of brands’ and retailers’ own business model, and in particular the price squeeze that they impose on their suppliers.

CSR initiatives fail to address industry issues

As a result, corporate-led social responsibility initiatives have been largely ineffective in improving conditions for workers and have particularly failed to address the most pervasive problems in the industry: low wages and the violation of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. Indeed, corporate-led models based on social auditing have primarily protected corporate interests and image, rather than providing a counterbalance to the unequal power relations that are at the root of poor working conditions and labor violations in garment factories across the world.

‘Future of Fashion’ explores the successes and challenges of three examples – in Indonesia, Honduras, and Bangladesh – of enforceable brand agreements in the global apparel industry, examining the context in which each was developed and how they address the deficiencies in traditional CSR approaches. It then outlines a four-part analytic framework, or essential elements, for identifying what a worker-centered, worker-driven model for advancing workers’ rights in the apparel supply chain should include. Finally, it lays out a road map for transforming the global apparel industry through greater uptake of worker-led initiatives and other actions necessary to strengthen worker rights in the global apparel industry.

 
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