BANGKOK — Ahead of the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch called on apparel and footwear brands to join a pledge promising transparency in their supply chain.
Signing on to the pledge would require brands and retailers to provide a regularly updated list of their manufacturers. Details should include the address of the facilities, the type of products made and the number of workers hired by each supplier factory. This pledge was hashed out by a coalition of nine labor and human rights organizations and unions.
The call for transparency in supply chain has been especially urgent after the Rana Plaza building collapsed on April 24, 2013. Leaving 1,100 garment workers dead and injuring more than 2,000, the industrial disaster brought into the fore the responsibility and leverage that firms have when it comes to preventing workplace disasters, like structural collapses or factory fires.
Because of a lack of transparency in the global supply chain, labor rights activists and investigators had to interview surviving workers to figure out which brands were being produced in Rana Plaza’s factories.
“One of the things that emerged painfully after Rana Plaza was that people were searching in rubble for brand labels just to find out which brands the factories were producing for,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel for the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. “We shouldn’t be doing that. We shouldn’t have to search around for labels to find out who people are producing for.”
According to the report published Thursday by the New York-based human rights organization, publishing a supplier list would also allow workers and labor advocates to alert companies about labor abuses happening in their supply factory.
“An apparel company that does not publish its supplier factory information contributes to possible delays in workers or other stakeholders being able to access the company’s complaint mechanisms or other remedies,” the report said, explaining that labor rights activist have to spend a lot of time trying to determine brand labels to figure out the sourcing companies. “Meanwhile, they lose valuable time and put workers at risk of retaliation and continued exposure to dangerous or abusive working conditions.”
Out of the 17 companies that promise to be in full compliance of the transparency pledge, some — including H&M, Levis, Nike and Adidas — were already following this practice. Others have signed on and have until December 2017 to put up their suppliers list on their web site. (An example is British e-tailer Asos, which published a list last month.)
There remains 55 companies that either fall short of full transparency or simply have made no indication that they are willing to make their supplier list public.
The 25 companies in the latter group include Wal-Mart, The Children’s Place, Primark and Carrefour — four retailers that were linked to factories in the Rana Plaza tragedy.
Alonzo Suson, Bangladesh director of the Solidarity Center, a labor rights organization affiliated with AFL-CIO, said their unwillingness to take part in full supply chain transparency is “a shame.”
“What they’re saying is, ‘We want to be hands-off and not be responsible,’” Suson said.
Other retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Ralph Lauren Corp. and Armani Group did not send a response.
Kashyap said some companies cited competition for factories as the reason for their non-disclosure.
“But that’s clearly contradicted by other companies who have been publishing it for over a decade, and with more and more companies joining this growing trend,” she said. “This type of concern has long been dispelled.”