NEW YORK — The path to a better supply chain — from improving working conditions to proper labeling of garments — is through transparency and knowledge.
That was the conclusion of panel discussions at the annual Fashion Law Institute symposium at Fordham Law School held April 19, prior to the apparel factory building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh last week. The panels focused on “green” labeling and ways to better monitor global manufacturing and stressed the importance in both cases of accurate and proper certification systems and corporate responsibility and integrity.
Carmen Artigas, dean of ethical fashion at the Center for Social Innovation, said, “You have to feel the responsibility of the life cycle of a product. Some of the issues in the ideals of ethical fashion are the working conditions, responsible manufacturing, traceable supply, respect for the environment, animal welfare and fair trade.”
For example, she said, 68 to 70 percent of apparel and textiles that are manufactured goes into landfills because there isn’t enough awareness or knowledge about recycling.
“Manufacturing has gone to the poorest areas of the world, resulting in a tremendous human and environmental price tag,” Artigas said.
Laura Kim, assistant director of enforcement at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “In the area of environmental marketing, we try to give guidance to businesses on what the line is between deceptive and truthful advertising. The two main principles are: You need to back up your claims and you need to make sure you have substantiation or evidence to back up your claims, and you need to tell the truth.”
Kim noted that last year, the FTC updated its “Green Guides,” which provide instruction to companies on how to properly use language, certifications and claims about the environment in their marketing.
“It’s important to use specificity when making a claim — the more specificity, the less danger of making an unsubstantiated claim,” Kim said. “Seals and certifications, such as biodegradable, are useful to consumers, but a general claim [such as sustainable] is less helpful and could be confusing to the consumer. Just because you get a certification isn’t enough. You still need to be able to substantiate your claim.”
KC Orcutt, communications director at Organic by John Patrick, which uses only organic cotton, explained the company’s commitment to it and responsible manufacturing. She said there needs to be tax incentives to encourage organic cotton growing in the U.S.
“As the conversation on where the product comes from becomes of more interest to the consumer, the focus on a sustainable methodology becomes even more crucial,” she added.
In the somewhat more serious areas of factory safety and working conditions, Eric Gottwald, senior policy analyst and staff attorney at the International Labor Rights Forum, focused on the recent tragic fires in Bangladesh, noting the key role that apparel manufacturing plays in the country’s economy, including as a major exporter to the U.S. and Europe.
“Since 2006, more than 600 workers have died and hundreds more have been injured,” said Gottwald, not including the estimated 400 that have now perished in the Sana Plaza disaster last week. “Obviously, no one likes this, but the question is what can we do to address this as consumers, as designers, as just concerned citizens and humans.”
He said corporate social responsibility programs are designed more “to manage a brand’s reputation” then to improve working conditions.
“If you are a company making clothes around the world, it’s very hard to maintain control of that supply chain, from product quality to conditions in the factory,” he said. “Brands hire third-party monitors, but the results are confidential and secretive. Workers are desperate to work despite the conditions. If they speak up, they lose their job. Auditors are for-profit and operate in a very competitive industry. Global CSR is a $34 million to $35 million industry. So, there’s always the risk that they’re pulling their punches — you might want to give a company good news because a bad report can be costly.”
The major push for ILRF is for industry and company transparency. Gottwald said one way to achieve this is for the industry and companies to share information and make public their audits and findings. It has established the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which bans production at any factory that refuses to make needed safety repairs for which the program provides funding, requires public disclosure of the results of all factory inspections, establishes a two-year program to enact in-factory enforcement, develops a process for worker complaints and mechanisms to report health and safety risks, sets up independent inspections and publicly reports on them, establishes a central role for unions and creates a binding contract between brands and worker representatives. So far only two companies — PVH Corp. and German retailer Tchibo — have signed it. The agreement will not take effect until at least two more major companies sign on.
Rachel Rigby, international relations officer with the Child & Forced Labor Office of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, said her agency works with the International Labor Organization to develop annual reports on international child labor and forced labor.
“We have heard from companies that they use these reports as a tool to decide where they manufacture,” Rigby said.
The DOL also makes sure the U.S. government doesn’t purchase goods from companies engaged in child or forced labor and funds educational programs on the issue. Following up on Gottwald’s discussion, she noted that the department is also involved in the ILO’s factory monitoring program, which as a credible, independent entity can provide transparency, and is involved in the ILO’s Better Work program, which assesses conditions at the producer and supplier level to ensure compliance with labor laws in countries such as Cambodia and Haiti.
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye