The YESS logo

The Responsible Sourcing Network, a project of the non-profit group As You Sow, has launched a new initiative called YESS: Yarn Ethically & Sustainably Sourced.

YESS will work to eradicate what the group calls “modern slavery” in cotton harvesting and yarn production by enabling yarn spinners to identify and eliminate cotton produced with forced labor, and be verified for having fair labor practices.

Cotton produced by forced labor, documented in at least nine countries, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, makes its way into clothing and home goods sold by major brands and retailers. This program will pilot in India and Bangladesh, which have numerous spinning mills and are highly affected by forced labor.

Major brands and retailers have endorsed a Statement of Support for this approach, including Adidas, Hudson’s Bay Co., BJ’s Wholesale Club and Woolworths Holdings. YESS will assist companies to comply with new antislavery regulations, minimize verification costs, establish an industrywide traceability approach and manage a global list of verified spinners.

“Although many of our corporate Cotton Pledge signatories know that this is a vulnerable spot in their supply chains, they haven’t known how to address the problem,” said Patricia Jurewicz, creator of YESS and director of RSN. “YESS is providing an innovative solution around which the entire industry can collaborate and contribute.”

While there are numerous projects that engage farmers and factory workers to improve labor conditions, YESS is one of just a few initiatives working directly with spinning mills.

Located in the middle of the supply chain, spinning mills are positioned to identify cotton produced with forced labor and prevent it from entering corporate supply chains, YESS noted. This initiative identifies a gap in transparency between where forced labor occurs in the cotton fields and the facilities in which different cottons are blended together.

YESS aims to close this gap by focusing on yarn spinning mills in the supply chain, and establishing a training, assessment and verification process. Identifying and addressing the forced and bonded labor of young women in spinning mills in southern India will also be incorporated into this initiative. YESS plans to coordinate its activities with industry-sustainable and ethical-sourcing platforms.

YESS feels it will serve as a vital tool for compliance and responsible sourcing as new laws require companies to report on their actions to address modern slavery and human trafficking, more consumers demand ethical manufacturing of their products, and investors increase benchmarking companies against one another on their human rights’ records.

For example, the Forced Labor Program for the Homeland Security Investigations unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stepped up detaining of goods suspected of being made by forced labor this year after enactment of legislation that removed an exemption that had limited its authority in the area.

“YESS offers a truly revolutionary approach that will allow apparel brands to identify and root out forced labor from the middle of our supply chains,” said Scott Leonard, cofounder and chief executive officer of Indigenous, one of the YESS Working Group members. “This will have a global impact once it is fully implemented. The time is now for the industry to join together and address these forced labor challenges.