NEW YORK — The consolidation of apparel manufacturing into fewer factories around the world after apparel and textile quotas are lifted Jan. 1 may encourage plant owners to comply with vendor codes of conduct on adequate wages, working hours and...
NEW YORK — The consolidation of apparel manufacturing into fewer factories around the world after apparel and textile quotas are lifted Jan. 1 may encourage plant owners to comply with vendor codes of conduct on adequate wages, working hours and the proper treatment of employees.
“Most retailers and apparel importers are thinking about placing bigger bets with fewer people,” among the 148 nations of the World Trade Organization that are dropping the import limits, said Anne Gust, chief administrative and compliance officer for Gap Inc. “With that comes a bet on higher standards.”
The issues of underpaid workers, human rights violations and mistreatment of employees in some foreign contract factories first came under public scrutiny in the mid-Nineties. Apparel vendors and retailers, who source most of their products from plants largely run by independent owners, turned to codes of conduct that they developed or that were generated by third-party monitors such as Social Accountability International in an effort to crack down on abuses.
Gap’s suppliers once accepted the rules grudgingly, but in recent years factory owners have told Gust, “‘We do it because we see the benefit of it,’’’ she said.
Complying with codes of conduct and improving workers’ treatment has helped Gap suppliers to attract and maintain skilled employees. Faced with violations such as excessive work hours, Gap has brought in industrial engineers to help its contractors operate more efficiently.
“In some cases, productivity is up as much as 40 percent,” at the factories, Gust said.
Tom Haugen, executive director at Hong Kong sourcing powerhouse Li & Fung (Trading) Ltd., said, “Your ability to influence what happens at a factory is directly proportional to the amount of business that you do there.”
Gust and Haugen made their remarks at a Social Accountability International conference in Manhattan on Oct. 18.
Daniel Rüfenact, director of corporate social responsibility with the $100 million Lausanne, Switzerland-based sportswear brand Switcher, said his company has also improved compliance at its plants by giving larger orders to fewer suppliers — in his case, cutting to about 25 factories in India and China from 250.
“One of the most important incentives is that we are going to work with them on a long-term basis,” he said. “If you commit to work with them for five years, as we try to do, then you can have everything.”
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