GENEVA — Senior executives from fast-fashion groups Primark and New Look told a United Nations forum on business and human rights here Wednesday there’s a growing interest by buyers, especially from younger ones, on ethical trading issues across the supply chain, from sourcing of apparel in poor exporting nations to conditions in their retail outlets.
“We are going to see more pressure from the younger generations to move things faster,” Katharine Stewart, ethical trade and sustainability director at Primark, told delegates.
Stewart said each month the company’s page dealing with ethics receives around 325,000 visits.
On Tuesday, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a keynote address, stressed of the risk to companies.
“When human rights abuses take place in connection with the operations of any multinational company or investment group, the news is just one social media post away from massive and enduring reputational damage and financial fallout,” he said. “States are primarily responsible for protecting the rights of their people. But companies also need to take a clear, unequivocal stance that they will not tolerate links to human rights abuses anywhere in their operations and supply chains.”
Primark, which mainly sources from Asia, and as well as Turkey and Romania, has 80 people on the ground in key sourcing nations and will soon that to increase to 100, Stewart said.
Companies have to put resources in the right place, and maintain integrity, she said, noting that the firm also recruits people from brands, non-governmental organizations and development backgrounds.
In Bangladesh, after the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, a structural engineer joined the team, Stewart said, and also indicated 750,000 people “are dependent on the orders we place.”
Subathra Vaidhiyanathan, senior CRS manager with New Look said the modern slavery act for 2015 came into force in the U.K. last year and “has widened the lens across all parts of the business going down to your ginning mills.”
The act, which seeks to counter modern slavery offenses, also includes a transparency in supply chain reporting provision.
New Look, Vaidhiyanathan said, has also a modern slavery officer in its CSR team, and is examining all aspects from retail and marketing to warehouses.
Vaidhiyanathan said the way consumers are buying and the way they interact is changing, and observed, “Millennials are interested in your company’s stance on political issues.”
Twenty years from now, she said, human rights “will have to be imbedded in your brand..what you do in the supply chain will merge with the brand.”