In a world hungry for fast, affordable fashion, the pressure to cut corners and squeeze costs is higher than ever. This threatens the lives and livelihoods of garment workers.
From Bangladesh to China, Turkey to Brazil, we know that workers aren't getting a fair deal. By helping them fight their own corner – and making the whole industry accountable for improvements – we believe that we can radically change the situation for garment workers across the world.
While some brands are making strides to address the complex, entrenched issues that perpetuate substandard working conditions, as an industry we are far from where we should be.
The continuous demand for fashion leads to a severe form of just-in-time production at the lowest cost possible. As factories subcontract work out, supply chains become opaque and that is where exploitation can hide.
A lack of transparency in the apparel supply chain and decades of entrenched behaviour make it hard to drive change. But change is possible. Greater transparency and closer collaboration between buyers, factories and workers can encourage decisions that will improve conditions and create lasting change.
We know that efforts to improve workers' wellbeing are strengthened when working conditions are publicly known and acknowledged. Credible, accessible and transparent information has the power to drive decision-making that leads to positive behaviour change.
Informed workers can choose to work in factories that treat people better. Brands can choose to improve their purchasing practices and enable suppliers to pass the benefits onto workers. And consumers can choose where to shop, based on the evidence of how a brand operates.
By making previously hidden or unknown information publicly available, we can enable and incentivise decision makers, at each stage of the value chain to make the choices that will ultimately improve working conditions for garment workers.
Suppliers have a lot of responsibility for poor working conditions, but governments, brands and retailers have much to answer for too.
On the buying side, late orders, last-minute changes and delayed payments put pressure on suppliers. These things can lead to unfair conditions for workers, who often shoulder the burden through excessive hours, late wages and unfair demands from employers.
That's why we're excited to be working with Better Buying, a fresh-thinking programme that aims to show brands how purchasing practices can help or hinder working conditions. It gives suppliers a platform to highlight best practice, and show how bad decision-making at buyer-level can lead to unfair conditions. By giving suppliers a voice and creating an opportunity for dialogue between buyers and suppliers, we can bring transparency to complex and difficult supply chain relationships.
Helping workers to help themselves is another important strand of our work. They have the greatest motivation to improve conditions, and they are the ones who know best what needs to improve.
If we respect garment workers' voices, we respect women's voices. If we listen, we can all create an industry that works for women's needs through adequate maternity leave, preventing sexual abuse, equal pay and promotion opportunities.
With a garment industry employing millions of workers, it is paramount to enable workers to negotiate for better conditions. Education, transparency and empowerment will ultimately give workers a chance to fight for fairer wages, to know and defend their own rights, and to advocate for interests in the workplace, as well as in their homes and communities.
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