January is a time for reflection, personal or business, and for us it’s no different. As we look back over the past 12 months of global supply chain news, we are unfortunately reminded of the scandals/incidents that occurred – global brands using ‘child-labour palm oil’, the countless car wash workers found to have been trafficked and exploited, as well as fatal factory fires in Bangladesh. We have to ask, “Where are we going wrong?” Particularly since 2016 saw a big, if not the biggest push, for cleaner supply chains and more responsible business, with the likes of the Modern Slavery Act legislation as well as campaigner led initiatives such as Fashion Revolution week.
We’re only 26 days into 2017 and we’ve already witnessed major labour abuses here in the UK through an investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches. The programme, Undercover: Britain's Cheap Clothes, revealed that employees working in British supplier factories, making clothes for top UK retailers, were being paid between £3.00 and £3.50 per hour – drastically under the UK’s living wage of £7.20 for over 25s.
Is this a sign that 2017 will be no different?
As most of us are aware, supply chains can span the globe, making them often opaque and twisted, which in turn makes it difficult to pinpoint where or what is being done wrong and what exactly the root cause of these fundamental issues are. We believe the answer to moving beyond non-transparent supply chains lies heavily in the hands of corporate giants, who have the power and resource to become accountable for each and every supplier in their supply chain.
Large global brands need to encourage and even pressure suppliers to meet at least the minimum of ethical standards. Allowing suppliers to independently continue to work as they please, with only an occasional spot-check from the retailer, has proven time and time again an ineffective approach.
What will it take to make a change – because we are all aware of the terrible conditions many workers are experiencing or are in danger of, and the damaging affect it can have on their lives? Why do retailers risk being exposed, when it is possible to uncover supply chain risks by listening to the workers?
The worker voice is extremely valuable in gaining an honest insight into the conditions and business practices of the workplace – and with advanced technology, this approach is extremely achievable and effective.
We do hope that this year will not continue how it has begun. We are optimistic that we will see a big change this year, but aren’t naïve to think that bad practice and scandals will disappear rapidly and without the hard work of many stakeholders. We intend to see: 1. Wider acknowledgement of the problem 2. Accountability for change and 3. Progress in supply chain transparency and better business.
What are your predictions or hopes for transparency in 2017?