Photo by Fufu Wolf
Gap and VF Corp. have become the latest global apparel firms to publish a list of the factories that makes their shoes and clothing. The move, which follows the lead of retailers such as C&A and Marks & Spencer, present a remarkable turnaround, particularly for Gap, which previously withheld information about its supply-chain partners for “competition reasons.” Human Rights Watch lauded both decisions as a win for transparency in what has traditionally been a secretive industry rife with hidden labor-rights and environmental abuses, most notably in the developing world. “Together they are sending an important message that transparency should be the norm in the garment industry,” Aruna Kashyap, senior women’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
In a 47-page document posted online, Gap, which owns the Gap, Old Navy, Athleta, and Banana Republic brands, listed the names and addresses of suppliers in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Guatemala, India, and Indonesia.
VF Corp., which operates Timberland, The North Face, and Wrangler, among others, revealed more than 700 active facilities around the world, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, the Dominican Republic, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, and Vietnam.
Transparency about suppliers also makes it easier for workers to notify brands when factories subcontract production to smaller, unregulated “shadow” facilities.
Transparency, Kashyap added, allows workers and advocates to “swiftly alert” brands of possible human-rights violations in the factories and, in doing so, allow them the opportunity to take corrective measures.
Transparency about suppliers also makes it easier for workers to notify brands when factories subcontract production to smaller, unregulated “shadow” facilities that are as indifferent toward worker safety as they are to fair wages.
But brands cannot monitor conditions in factories they know nothing about, Kashyap said.
Calls for industry transparency grew more vociferous in the wake of the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza building, a watershed disaster that killed 1,138 garment workers and injured or maimed thousands more in Bangladesh.
Both Gap and VF Corp. drew criticism at the time for failing to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, choosing instead to join the rival—and, according to labor activists, less legally binding—Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
“The growing number of apparel industry leaders disclosing factories is good news for workers, the industry, and consumers,” Kashyap said. “Brands that do not disclose are holding out on a critical tool that can promote worker rights. They should stop making excuses.”
Liana Foxvog, director of organizing and communications at the International Labor Rights Forum, concurred. “Now that Gap, VF [Corp.], and Target have all recently disclosed their factory lists, other US companies like Walmart, JCPenney and Sears no longer have any excuse to keep their suppliers hidden,” she told Ecouterre.