Darlene Ugwa (DUgwa@wrapcompliance.org)
For the past 6 months, I have been immersed into the world of social compliance within apparel manufacturing. While the term ‘social compliance’ and ‘corporate social responsibility’ are not new to me, it has always been theoretical rather than practical.
As the newest kid on the block, I have a fresh set of eyes on the industry. One of my biggest lessons has been that many members of the millennial generation are checking to see if their food is organic, if their favorite celebrities are problematic, and if their clothing are ethically made, but there is still a disconnect between our demand as consumers and the acknowledgment of the hands that make our products. In fact, we do not see our consumption as an ‘industry demand’, we see it as wanting a cheaper version of what our favorite celebrity wore or the cheaper version of what our favorite YouTuber is selling. We say that we do not mind spending more money on timeless fashion items, but we prefer to spend less on the trends; these are our unassuming demands on the market.
I have been learning new lessons about the industry- specifically manufacturing. These are a few of the takeaways I hope will remain with me even has my knowledge and experience evolves.
- Monitoring and accountability are necessary: Without sounding biased, the work that WRAP does is under appreciated. The practicality of the tool they created and the fact that they are a knowledgeable operator of this tool is what fosters sustainability. When there is no one to hold a brand, retailer, or factory accountable, history has shown that human rights violations are more likely to take place.
- There is a human connection in almost every aspect of the supply chain: For some reason, I believed that the manufacturing of apparel was an equal hybrid of technology and human skills. After visiting a few factories around the world in the past six months, I came to realize that our clothing is 95% hand made. From the creation of fabrics, to cutting, sewing and ironing, there is usually a local woman or man, young or old, manning the operation.
- Consumers and brands are equally as responsible as factory managers for the treatment of employees: As a “millennial and conscientious” consumer, I might think that paying a few extra dollars is paying back to the workers, or that reusing and recycling my clothing is decreasing the demand on factories, but in reality, the entire ecosystem of influencers, consumer, designers, and manufacturers have an important role to play in ethical sourcing and manufacturing. My demands dictate what a brand orders from a factory, and in turn if it requires a fast turnaround, the responsibility falls on the workers to work harder and longer.
- Brands are being proactive in their efforts: I have been able to interact with many brands and retailers who are looking into the root causes of problems in their supply chain and working to rectify those issues. Using audit reports like WRAP’s gives insights to brands who might be headquartered in North America to what is happening in their factories across the ocean in Asia. I am very impressed with these various brands who are moving beyond checking a box in the area of compliance and are instead funneling money and resources into developing programs, trainings, and opportunities for their workers.
While these takeaways might seem minute or very common sense, there is a basic need to absorb these basic lessons because they shape how we approach the problem of non-compliances and inhumane practices around the world.