Jill Tucker talks transparency

C&A Foundation is working to fundamentally transform the fashion industry, and this includes drastically improving the working conditions for the women and men work in the apparel supply chain. Transparency is an important ally in the struggle for better working conditions. Understand our work in an interview with Jill Tucker, Head of Supply Chain Innovation & Transformation at C&A Foundation. 

Jill Tucker, an American with over 20 years' experience in international development and compliance, is at the forefront of this process. Jill is the Head of Supply Chain Innovation & Transformation and she maintains that even though problems in the fashion industry have moved geographically in the last century, the remain to a large extent unsolved.  In her opinion, if things are to change we must explore  the power relationships between workers and managers and between buyers and producers. The good news is that today, we already see transparency mechanisms being incorporated in the supply chains of major brands, which is undoubtedly a move that will help to change these relationships and make fashion a force for good. 

Can you tell us a bit about your professional journey, until you arrived at the C&A Foundation?

In the 1990’s I had been working in international development for about a decade when an executive for a large US apparel company came to my office in Indonesia and described a position they were hiring for: factory compliance monitor.  I had never heard of such a job before. I recommended an Indonesian friend, who was hired.  Her work sounded so meaningful that when a position with Reebok, the footwear company, opened up, I applied for it.  I worked with Reebok for about a decade, building a compliance team in Asia.  Later I worked with the ILO heading up the Better Factories Cambodia program. When I heard about C&A Foundation I felt that it was trying to address issues in a systemic way and I jumped at the opportunity to try to make a bigger difference in the industry.

“2017 has been an excellent year for apparel industry transparency. Over 100 brands have now disclosed their factory lists and several important transparency reports have been issued. The transparency wave is growing and I believe there is no stopping it. ”

Head of Supply Chain Innovation & Transformation Jill Tucker

How has living in different countries affected you?

I have met and learned from so many amazing, talented and resourceful people when working in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia, China and elsewhere.  Many of these people were garment workers.  I found that talent and, intelligence and drive seemed to be evenly distributed among populations, but bias, and barriers and opportunity were not.  I realized that I had benefited from an accident of birth: having had so many opportunities when others did had not.  So I had to ask myself: what’s my obligation to make sure that those who didn’t have the same opportunities as I did aren’t excluded from determining how things should work in their communities and workplaces?  I decided that I had a responsibility to play a role – even a small one -- in addressing these inequities.  

On the C&A Foundation website bio you said that you “believe that transforming fashion into a force for good means fundamentally changing the status quo - changing relationships and the way that things have always been done.” What do you mean, exactly?

The global apparel industry is a massive machine, and although there have been changes – including the development of social compliance programs and the recent trend toward fast fashion – the changes have not significantly improved working conditions.  When studying the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911 in which 145 workers died, and comparing that to the Tazreen factory fire in 2012 and the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 (both in Bangladesh), we can see that even after 100 years the problems are moving from country to country, but are largely not being resolved.   There are excellent factories in every apparel-producing country, but there are also many that operate in exploitative ways. To address the challenges I believe we need to explore fundamental changes in the relationship between workers and management, and in the relationship between buyers and producers.   Consumers have also benefited from falling apparel prices; this cannot continue if we want to sustainably improve working conditions. 

Can you explain what is the strategy of the foundation to improve working conditions?
The goal of our programme is to increase accountability for working conditions at all levels through: 

  • Transparency: Public disclosure of working conditions, purchasing practices and supply chains, in a manner which incentivises improvement;
  •  Worker Empowerment: Enabling workers to negotiate and bargain collectively for the improvements they prioritise, and
  •  Policy change and enforcement: Development and enforcement of policies that foster good working conditions and uphold legal rights.

 We work with all stakeholders (workers, employers, industry associations, governments, investors, etc.) and at all levels, from Tier 1 factories down to cotton fields.  In order to make systemic changes we try to strictly focus on our mandate, and resist making grants that might be beneficial for some stakeholders, but which are unlikely to bring systemic change.

How can the foundation's work change the realities of women who are part of the fashion industry?

In most apparel-producing countries, women make up the majority of the stitchers and low-level operators, but a minority of supervisors and managers.  We also see very few women in leadership positions in apparel industry unions.  Through our grants, we try to ensure and that women have the opportunity to be actors or drivers of good working conditions, not only subjects and recipients.  When this happens, we believe that the issues that women care about will be prioritized and that this will be beneficial to their communities, and to the men in the industry as well. 

You have been working for the foundation for some years now. From what you have achieved so far, what are you most proud of?

Real, sustainable change takes time, and since we are early in our journey, I believe it is appropriate to be humble about what we have achieved so far.  However, we have been beating the drum about transparency as a means to accountability from the beginning.  Even just a few years ago, “transparency” was a bit of a dirty word in the industry.  Brands were afraid of it and resisted.  NGOs did not demand it.  I realize that Brazil was a pioneer in this regard, and that transparency has been a feature of your industry for a while.  But outside of Brazil, this was not true.  This is changing.  2017 has been an excellent year for apparel industry transparency.  Over 100 brands have now disclosed their factory lists and several important transparency reports have been issued, such as Human Rights Watch’s Follow the Thread report and Fashion Revolution’s 2017 Fashion Transparency Index.  Even the Economist Intelligence Unit posted a 15-minute video on supply chain transparency.   Some of our grants are starting to have an impact.  The transparency wave is growing and I believe there is no stopping it.