By  on December 7, 2006

WASHINGTON — Top apparel brands and retailers don't provide enough information to investors and consumers about how they protect the rights of workers in their supply chain, a new report said.

Still, there has been "incremental improvement" in the area of transparency over the last year, said the study, "Revealing Clothing," produced by Ethical Trading Action Group, a coalition of labor, non-governmental and other groups. The findings are to be released today.

By focusing on how companies communicate their policies instead of the actual labor practices at the factories they use, the survey of 30 companies seeks to pressure the firms to talk more about what they're doing and open a dialogue that will ultimately improve factory conditions.

"Public transparency in all matter of corporate conduct, including labor practices, pushes corporations to implement better information-gathering processes that ensure relevant information reaches officials with leverage to ensure positive changes," said the study.

The Toronto-based worker advocacy group Maquila Solidarity Network is the principal author of the report, which focuses on brands in the Canadian market. Apparel union UNITE HERE is also a part of the coalition behind the study.

The report rated the companies — with a score of 100 meaning the public had enough information to make informed decisions about a company and its products. Firms with a score of at least 70 out of 100 included Levi Strauss & Co., Adidas AG and Gap Inc. Companies with scores in the 60s included Nike Inc., Hennes & Mauritz, Eddie Bauer Holdings and Liz Claiborne Inc.

"The top companies in this report are all ones which have received prodding over the years, Nike, Gap, Levi's, all of these have had various consumer campaigns launched against them, and they're now the ones who are really leading the charge in the industry to fix the problem," said Kevin Thomas, campaign coordinator for the Maquila Solidarity Network.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and American Eagle Outfitters both scored a 40. Companies with higher ratings are making an effort to be transparent, while those in the 40s are doing the minimum, Thomas said.

The power of transparency in at least some cases is apparent, such as the practice of disclosing which factories a brand uses, a step the report recommends."A company that discloses where its factories are located will take a more active interest in conditions in those factories because of the increased risk that those conditions will be discovered and reported by third parties in a manner that could negatively affect the company's reputation," the report said.

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