The Textiles & Apparel industry has witnessed an ever-increasing focus on social compliance, and it is seen as one of the most critical areas of focus to many brands and retailers. With the unswerving commitment to the sewing products industry, WRAP, along with the AAFA, co-organized a half-day Social Compliance Workshop on Nov 6, 2019 in Hong Kong. The event brought together high-level speakers to discuss several hot topics, including the trade war & its impact on the CSR landscape, problem-solving exercises on to operate a best in practice factory, and sharing tools and resources to help participants.
One of the sessions was a panel discussion in which a U.S. brand, along with a footwear factory were invited to address working hours and health & Safety.
Clay Hickson, Senior Vice President of WRAP, asked the brand why social compliance is important to them and how they work with the factory to ensure social compliance. The brand replied that they view social compliance as the foundation of anything they do on this front. They shared with the audience of the areas of interest they will usually go through when working with a new factory, which included but was not limited to:
- Sharing of all information incorporated in a brand’s code of conduct;
- Looking at the social compliance aspects of the factory in order to understand they address working hours matters and health & safety issues;
- How an audit team will conduct interviews to determine whether the factory truly has a solid program, including whether they have a designated person responsible for overseeing social compliance;
- Find out whether the factory encountered any key issues in the past, and how they resolved those historical issues;
- Opening dialogue with factories to find out a better way on how they can improve management of overtime – such as deferring their productions, so that they don’t have a constant occurrence of excessive overtime, which would constitute a non-compliance.
Clay then spoke to the footwear factory in order to find out what the primary driver for them was when it came to social compliance, specifically addressing health and safety issues. The factory responded that they understand social compliance within an enterprise is very important, especially for international brands and retailers. They have made progress in addressing the Health & Safety issue by adding protective facilities in areas with occupational hazards and generating a VOC processing system. In addition, they optimized the process and replaced the original materials with more environmentally friendly substances. Also, all new hires would receive full safety and health training, and refresher training would be carried out for current employees. The next step will be strengthening the monitoring process to regularly inspect and supervise all health and safety work so potential risks factors could be identified and resolved quickly.
Apart from Health and Safety issue, Clay also asked the factory how they manage their overtime as working hours continues to be a major challenge facing the industry in China. The Human Resources manager of the footwear factory emphasized that it is difficult just to solve the overtime problem through existing processes. He found out that excessive overtime results from a certain set of challenges; including order status, labor force issues, production processes, and obsolete management systems. Therefore, the factory expanded their production capacities by shifting low-end production to other Asian countries four years ago while maintaining high-end production at their existing plant in China. He emphasized that a large labor force does not equal enhanced productivity. Increasing the size of a labor force does not solve productivity problems, and it could actually increase the risk of problems such as poor quality control, delivery delay, and eventually cause more work hours-related issues. If any one worker within this production line goes absent, it would cause a direct impact to the daily productivity. In order to keep up their daily production, they have cross-trained a group of workers to fill in should a regular employee be absent. Although these experienced workers are paid higher than the supervisor, the factory can now guarantee a high productivity rate and superior quality control. This goes a long way in reducing the incidents of excessive overtime.
Lastly, Clay asked the factory what advice this factory would give to other manufacturers. They responded by saying that there are many aspects needed to maintain a social compliance production, but these were the crucial points to keep in mind:
- Top management must be involved in any process working towards social compliance;
- Possessing full-time staff that was responsible for ensuring and regularly monitoring policies and procedures needed comply with a regulatory framework;
- Engaging in root cause analysis to find out the major issue of helps to address and resolve the problem in a more effective manner.
This factory demonstrated an effective way to reduce overtime by improving their labor resources. All these initiatives come from a long-term relationships with their buyers who reward factories to improve compliance.