New Benchmarks, Empowerment Program Aim to Eradicate Worker Exploitation in Apparel Supply Chains

By Libby MacCarthy

Growing concerns over the environmental and social impacts of the footwear and apparel industry have kickstarted efforts to create more transparent and ethical supply chains and practices, but there is still a significant amount of work to be done, according to a new benchmarking system launched today by KnowTheChain (KTC), a resource for businesses and investors who need to understand and address forced labor abuses within their supply chains.

KnowTheChain’s new Apparel and Footwear Benchmark ranks 20 large apparel and footwear companies – including Nike, H&M, Hanesbrands, Kering, Primark and Inditex – on their efforts to eradicate forced labor and human trafficking from their supply chains, and the findings illuminate considerable performance gaps. Only a small group of companies seriously addresses exploitation. While most have systems in place to monitor and react to forced labor and human trafficking, few address the systematic causes.

“Despite international and brand attention on worker issues for more than twenty years, many retailers haven’t addressed the deep seeded causes of worker abuse in their supply chains. Hopefully this benchmark will help them recognize that they need to do better by the people making their clothes and shoes,” Kilian Moote, director of KnowTheChain, said in a statement.

KnowTheChain assessed information available on each company’s own website, as well as additional public disclosure that companies provided in response to engagement questions. Sustainalytics, a leading global provider of environmental, social and governance (ESG) research and ratings, supported the development of the Benchmark methodology, conducted the company research and contributed to the key findings report.

Companies were ranked across seven measurement areas (commitment and governance, purchasing practices, worker voice, remedy, traceability and risk assessment, recruitment and monitoring) and averaged a score of 46 out of a possible 100. Top performers — adidas, Gap, Lululemon and H&M — achieved scores above 60 out of 100 possible points. Among the worst-performing companies are Hong Kong-based Belle International Holdings, which ranked 0 out of 100; Chinese clothing manufacturer Shenzhou International Group Holdings (1/100); and luxury Italian fashion house, Prada (9/100). Overall, luxury brands, notably Hugo Boss, Kering (holding company of Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Stella McCartney and others) and Ralph Lauren score much lower than High Street apparel retailers (such as H&M, Inditex or Primark). This last point comes as somewhat of a shock, given that fast fashion brands are typically the ones who come under fire as far as supply chains, sustainability and ethics are concerned, while Kering — whose Environmental Profit & Loss methodology has made it a significant player in the sustainable fashion movement — is often touted as a leader in these areas.

As Moote told Sustainable Brands via email, the benchmark leaders are those taking action across all aspects of the benchmark. “The leading companies understand and are trying to mitigate the risks posed to recruited workers by ensuring that workers do not have to pay to acquire a job and/or are committing to reimbursing workers for any fees charged that violate their Read the Original


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