The Impact of Universities on Supply Chain Transparency
April 21, 2017
One of the most important aspects of the work done over the years by universities to protect the rights of workers making collegiate licensed apparel has been the way in which standards originally adopted in this area by universities have now become recognized benchmarks of ethical business practice for the global garment industry as a whole. A prime example of the lasting impact of universities’ labor rights efforts was highlighted this week in a major report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the world’s leading nongovernmental human rights organization, on recent successful efforts by HRW, the WRC and other labor and human rights advocates to secure commitments by major apparel brands to publicly disclose more information about the overseas factories that make their clothes – a basic transparency measure that is key to protecting all garment workers against sweatshop abuses. The report is available here.
As the report, which was coauthored by the WRC, relates, two of the top makers of collegiate apparel, Under Armour and Hanesbrands (maker of Knights Apparel and Gear for Sport), recently committed for the first time to publicly disclose nearly their entire global factory networks – not just the subset of their factories that make collegiate goods. And, of course, other major university licensees, including adidas, Columbia, Nike, Russell, and VF, already had such policies in place. The report shows clearly that university licensees are strongly represented among the apparel companies that have adopted this industry-leading practice.
As you know, for many years, university labor standards have contractually required licensees to disclose the factories where their university logo apparel is made, with the WRC making this information publicly available to the university community through our website. What some may not remember, however, is that in the early 2000s, when universities first adopted this requirement and the WRC started publishing this information, public disclosure of supplier factories was literally nonexistent in the global apparel industry – and, indeed, was strongly resisted by apparel brands, including top university licensees, on purported competitive grounds. Universities went forward, despite the licensees’ objections, and licensees complied and began to disclose their supplier factories for collegiate apparel.
In the intervening years, the publication of supplier factory information has gone from a supposed competitive risk for apparel brands to a recognized competitive advantage – a public commitment to more ethical business practice. As the new report indicates, 40 major brands now publicly disclose, or have committed to publicly disclose by the end of 2017, all or almost all of their global apparel supply chains. In addition to the university licensees already noted above, they include Gap, H&M, Levi’s, Patagonia, Disney, Puma, New Balance, Benetton, Target, UNIQLO, Abercrombie & Fitch, and PVH (Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger). The total number of factories covered can only be calculated as the brands newly committed to disclosure begin to post their data, but the WRC anticipates that, in the aggregate, these brands will be disclosing close to 10,000 factories, representing a large share of the entire global apparel supply chain. We have no doubt that, in coming years, with further effort by labor and human rights advocates, this practice will continue to expand.
We are pleased to share this report with you as an important example of the lasting and widespread impact of university leadership in protecting the rights and well-being of garment workers around the world.
Worker Rights Consortium