As clothing and textile manufacturers across the world come under the scrutiny of Social Compliance rules and regulations, many companies that do business in the US are left wondering how to best deal with the Fair Labor verification requirements they are now faced with.
For several years now stories have been showing up in the press and American media calling into question the commitment to fair labor practices of some major global clothing manufacturers. Some high-profile brand names have been accused of turning a blind eye to such issues as child labor, forced labor, and unsafe working conditions in their overseas factories, or among their contractors. Brands like Nike have even been the focus of very vocal protests and calls for boycott.
Many companies are concerned that their contractors in places like Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, China and Pakistan are utilizing forced labor, or overworked child labor, in cotton fields, sweatshops, and on factory floors. When faced with verification requirements, though, these companies quickly realize that the supply chain for goods such as raw cotton, or cotton textiles, is so convoluted and interwoven that following a product to its source is nearly impossible.
For example, when American denim giant Levi Strauss became aware of the public relations problems resulting from their use of Uzbek cotton, they looked into the issue and discovered that the Uzbek government itself was involved in supporting forced child labor practices in their cotton fields, and as a result they banned cotton from Uzbekistan altogether, and encouraged others to do so as well.
According to Michael Kobori, Vice President of Social and Environmental Sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co., it is a “challenge to get traceability into the supply chain,” but, after making it a major social compliance priority, he says they now have complete transparency over their cotton supply. Mr. Kobori believes that the problem is not insurmountable, and that a commitment to supply chain oversight is essential to success in terms of social compliance.
But, not every manufacturer has the vast resources of Levi Strauss. Many are unable to put their own people on the ground to collect data and provide verification. For smaller companies it is increasingly vital that they devise a system for tracking and verifying compliance on their own. An important component of this oversight is Supply Chain Management software, or other Product Lifecycle Management systems. These tools can help a manufacturer keep a close eye on the vast number of data points collected in their supply chain, and help them track verification all along their network.