Today Free2Work released the most comprehensive picture to date of any sector’s corporate social responsibility efforts on child and forced labor. The new report, “The Story Behind the Barcode: Apparel Industry Trends from Farm to Factory,” ranks 300 apparel brands on their efforts to address child and forced labor from cotton farms to textile plants and garment factories. These products make their way to store shelves in the US and are also bought with taxpayer dollars.
To ensure that government procurement does not subsidize abusive and unlawful working conditions, dozens of cities and counties and several states have adopted sweatshop-free procurement policies. Some of these entities – three states and thirteen cities – have recently joined the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium, a new membership organization for public entities that seek to purchase apparel and related products made in decent working conditions.
Free2Work’s report calls attention to the fact that uniforms made with child and forced labor may be entering government supply chains. “I was surprised to see that the brands supplying apparel to US government, states, counties, and cities rank lower than the industry average,” said Liana Foxvog, Director of SweatFree Communities, a network of groups that advocate for government procurement policies that ensure workers' rights in the manufacture of apparel purchased with taxpayer dollars. “For me this drives home the need for more government entities to join the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium and to participate in its efforts. My hope is that Free2Work’s exposé will spur industry change in the sector.”
The report encourages clothing sector improvements by offering snapshots of the practices of industry leaders. It highlights “A” rated brands like Alta Gracia for providing a living wage to garment workers, and Maggie’s Organics for its innovative ethical practices from the farm level to the factory level. It also calls attention to brands that fuel slavery through their negligence.
The report notes that the ratings only indicate how companies are addressing child and forced labor specifically. The grades should not be used as a measure of overall working conditions in supply chains. For example, while Adidas’ rating for policies addressing child labor and forced labor is above average, on worker rights the company falls short. In fact, currently labor rights organizations are calling on Adidas to pay the $1.8 million in severance pay that it owes to former PT Kizone workers in Indonesia.
Most of the companies supplying uniforms to government entities received a “D” or “F.” However, Elbeco and Fechheimer stood ahead of other government suppliers in the transparency and worker rights categories, in recognition of the disclosure of their factories in SweatFree LinkUp! (http://buysweatfree.org/linkup) and for respecting workers’ right to associate, as evidenced by their use of a few unionized sewing facilities in the United States.
While many apparel companies now have extensive corporate social responsibility programs, their impact on workers' lives remains unclear. The Free2Work report compares its rankings for these programs to the wages brands guarantee to workers. It finds that most apparel supply chain workers – even those laboring for high scoring brands – make poverty wages and are forced to work excessive overtime hours to squeeze out a living.
The Free2Work iPhone and Android applications allow consumers to scan product barcodes to retrieve A to F company ratings while they shop. “We hope that consumers will use this information to create the economic demand for abolition, and that companies will respond by reporting more transparently and engineering better paths forward,” said Haley Wrinkle, senior researcher of Free2Work and author of the report.
SweatFree Communities, a program of the International Labor Rights Forum, coordinates a national network of grassroots campaigns that promote humane working conditions in apparel and other global industries by working with both public and religious institutions to use institutional purchasing as a lever for worker justice.