WASHINGTON — Michael Singer, the new chairman of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association and an executive at Macy’s, plans to draw on his expertise to help expand the trade and lobbying group’s focus on sustainability and supply chain transparency.
Pressing Congress to pass the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and expanding the association’s member training and education programs are also top priorities this year.
Singer, who is vice president of customs and social compliance for Macy’s Merchandising Group, has spent the past few years developing strategies on sustainability for the company and said in that aspect he brings “something a little different” to the table at USFIA.
“It’s important that companies begin to look at supply chains [more deeply] and develop a transparency map to know where their raw materials are coming from and where their products are actually being made, not just where they are assembled, but where their raw materials are coming from,” Singer said. “It’s going further than Tier 1. Most of us have always audited and done a lot of things where the goods are manufactured. It’s really a step further than that…There are some that have [gone further], but my guess is that the majority of companies probably need to do more in that area. It’s an ongoing effort.”
The industry’s more intense focus on its supply chain stems from years of developing corporate social responsibility programs and auditing and monitoring its foreign factories.
“There has been a lot going on the last few years in the legislative arena and also through NGOs that are pushing importers to look further down in their supply chain. It’s really just understanding our supply chain a little bit more,” he added. “One of the things I’m trying to do is bring this out to the USFIA members and begin to push these initiatives and bring it to everyone’s attention.”
The intensified focus on supply chains also comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are stepping up scrutiny and enforcement of imports suspected of being made by forced labor.
Customs detained the first shipment of suspected imported forced labor products under a new law expanding its authority at the end of March, holding a shipment containing several imported products, including viscose rayon fiber, calcium chloride, soda ash and caustic soda manufactured or mined by Tangshan Sanyou Group based in China.
Singer said USFIA is watching closely how CBP and ICE roll out the new process on forced labor detentions and are seeking more transparency from authorities.
“In general, companies already have policies in place to ban the use of forced labor. We regularly audit our factories. We have a commitment to eliminate forced labor in our supply chain,” he said. “USFIA members have joined with NGOs to publicly ban those imports.”
Julia Hughes, USFIA’s president, said, “The private sector outreach and dialogue with CBP and ICE is a top priority.”
“Everyone is against forced labor,” Hughes said. “The question is how will Customs implement this and what is the transparency about the process. That is why we are excited for Michael to be the chair. We’ve talked a lot internally about sustainability and these processes, but we haven’t been as visible in a public way about what companies are doing and how they are moving forward. That is definitely one of our goals here under Michael’s leadership.”
The TPP agreement is another area of focus for Singer and USFIA this year.
Trade ministers signed TPP in early February. It includes the U.S., Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand and aims to remove barriers to trade to encompass nearly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product if enacted.
But the deal faces opposition from key Democrats in Congress, concerns from GOP leaders, all of the remaining presidential contenders, labor and environmental groups and growing numbers of the public. On the positive side, the deal has support from major business trade groups, including USFIA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers.
“Obviously, that is a number-one priority for USFIA,” he said. “It doesn’t look like anything is going to happen, at least before a lame duck session and possibly not until early 2017. I guess the feeling is it’s a big question mark now and we’re hoping that something happens in a lame duck session in early 2017.”
He said TPP will provide big opportunities for companies, particularly in Vietnam, which is already the second largest supplier of apparel to the U.S.
“It will open up new markets and lower duty rates, which will be a big plus for us,” Singer said.
As for China, the top supplier of apparel to the U.S., Singer said business in China has been “relatively stable.”
“The [Chinese] economy is relatively weak and the government is concerned about unemployment,” Singer said. “So wage increases will be tempered this year. There’s still a lot of hunger for orders in China because of the RMB against the U.S. dollar….The thought is there won’t be any major shifts this year.”
Asked if Made in America factors into the company’s decision-making, Singer said it is a small part of the business.
“I think the Millennial business is sort of pushing a small increase in that,” he added.