A worldwide coalition of labour and human rights organisations has urged global apparel companies to publish more information about their production sources ahead of the 4th anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.
The nine-member coalition, which includes Human Rights Watch and the International Labour Rights Forum, has endorsed a Transparency Pledge which asks apparel companies to publish important information about supplier factories and their authorised subcontractors.
The pledge also sets a floor - not ceiling - for supply chain transparency.
"Transparency is a powerful tool for promoting corporate accountability for garment workers' rights in global supply chains, as it allows workers and labour and human rights advocates to alert the company to rights abuses in its supplier factories," the coalition said in a statement.
And in a 40-page report released on Thursday titled 'Follow the Thread: The Need for Supply Chain Transparency in the Garment and Footwear Industry
', the coalition reveals that at least 29 global apparel and footwear companies have published information about the factories that manufacture their products.
It also highlights 17 leading international brands which will meet minimum standards for supply chain transparency by the end of 2017.
Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel for the women's rights division at HRW, said a basic level of supply chain transparency in the garment industry should be "the norm" in the 21st century.
"Openness about a company's supply chain is better for workers, better for human rights, and shows that companies care about preventing abuse in their supply chains," she said in a statement.
Aruna added that labour advocates could not determine which companies' products were made at the Rana Plaza building - which collapsed in the Savar district north of Dhaka on April 24, 2013, killing over 1,100 garment workers - and in the Tazreen Fashions factory, which caught fire with the loss of 117 people in November 2012.
"They had to hunt for the brand labels at the factory sites and interview surviving workers to determine which brands were involved," she said.
Both incidents prompted global criticism of some leading international brands who sub-contract their production processes to less reputable supply chains in developing countries.
"After Rana Plaza and other disasters, human rights groups, unions, and some companies and investors have seen how important transparency is for preventing abuses and for efforts at accountability," said Ben Vanpeperstraete, lobby and advocacy coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign International Office.
"Companies need to put transparency into practice to show that they respect human rights and decent working conditions," he added.
Judy Gearhart, executive director at the International Labour Rights Forum, said companies can still do more.
"Adhering to a minimum level of supply chain transparency in the pledge is important for accountability efforts. They should at least start with this basic step," she said.
The coalition urges companies that have not aligned with the pledge to do so by December and to help galvanise the apparel industry toward a basic threshold level of supply chain transparency.
The coalition consists of Human Rights Watch, International Labour Rights Forum, Clean Clothes Campaign, IndustriALL Global Union, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, the the International Trade Union Confederation, the Maquila Solidarity Network, UNI Global Union, and the Worker Rights Consortium.