Just days before the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, several big name clothing retailers – including four in Canada — are being urged to do a better job disclosing where their products are made.
The report, co-authored by nine labour rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Canadian organization Maquila Solidarity Network, says many clothing and footwear brands are failing to fully identify the factories that produce their branded goods.
Such disclosures are a first step to identifying factories that are engaging in dangerous or unfair labour practices, they write in “Follow the Thread: The Need for Supply Chain Transparency in the Garment and Footwear Industry.”
The human rights groups asked 72 major clothing brands to agree to a Transparency Pledge and publish on their websites the full names and addresses of the factories making their branded products. Four of the companies they contacted were Canadian:
- Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC)
- Hudson’s Bay Company
- Loblaw, owner of Joe Fresh
- Canadian Tire, owner of Mark’s and SportChek
Mountain Equipment Co-op fared best in the report, coming close to meeting the full transparency pledge standards. Hudson’s Bay discloses the names and addresses of some of the facilities producing their branded products, but not all and has no time line to do so, the report authors found.
Loblaw, whose Joe Fresh line was produced at the Rana Plaza, now discloses names of factories and countries of manufacturer, but not the addresses.
Canadian Tire, meanwhile, did not agree to publicly disclose any information on its supplier factories.
According to the report, 17 of the 72 companies they contacted agreed to publish all supplier factory information requested. Another five companies (including MEC) published some information though just short of the pledge standards, while 18 (including Loblaw) “are moving in the right direction,” the report authors say.
Ten did not respond at all to the coalition’s letter, while 15 (including Canadian Tire) did not commit to publish supplier factory information.
The United Steelworkers of Canada, which works to support garment workers in Bangladesh and improve their working conditions, is calling on Canadians to push for more transparency.
“The Canadian Tire family of brands, including Mark’s and Sport Chek, imports products from 67 factories in Bangladesh,” Ken Neumann, the Canadian director of the United Steelworkers said in a statement.
“However, they don’t publicly report which garment factories they use. That means human rights groups can’t independently verify if these factories are safe and how they are treating their workers.”
The USW campaign encourages Canadians to email and call the presidents and CEOs of Canadian Tire, Mark’s, and Sport Chek to ask for change.
“Keeping factories hidden from public scrutiny is unacceptable. It’s time to stop operating in the dark,” Neumann added.
Calls for transparnecy since Rana Plaza collapse
In 2013, the Rana Plaza collapse killed more than 1,100 garment workers. After the disaster, it became apparent that few at the factory were aware of which apparel companies were using the facility, with the information only trickling out after workers rummaged through the rubble to look for brand labels.
Since then, many leading clothing companies have begun publishing information about their supply chain, including Nike, adidas, Levi Strauss, and Patagonia.
The groups say consumers have the right to know details about where the products they buy are made, beyond a label that might read: “Made in China” or “Made in Bangladesh.”
Retailers, too, have a responsibility to take steps to prevent human rights risks throughout their supply chains, and to help advance ethical business practices, the coalition says.
They say retailers and clothing companies need to be willing to promote supply chain transparency, to allow workers and human rights advocates to alert retailers to abuses in their supplier factories.
Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel for the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, says a basic level of supply chain transparency in the garment industry should be the norm in the 21st century.
“Openness about a company’s supply chain is better for workers, better for human rights, and shows that companies care about preventing abuse in their supply chains,” she said in a statement.