‘In the true light of transparent business practices, the costs should be borne equally between supplier and customer’
In the recently held Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the world’s recognized forum for sustainable initiatives in the fashion industry, the opening statement was rather interesting.
In the statement, the C&A Foundation defined transparency as such: “Transparency is not solely about traceability within the supply chain, but is the disclosure of information in a standardized manner that is accessible to all and enables comparison.”
This worthy statement was also supported by the arguments of why transparency in the fashion industry is important, and the benefits that can be gained by adopting transparent business practices.
There are many components to transparency within the fashion industry, including:
The adoption of fair trade principals throughout the supply chain -- from fibre through to finished product
Fair wages for all workers within the supply chain ensuring that clothes can be manufactured with dignity
The guarantee of a sustainable livelihood for all workers
The assurance of workers well-being and safety at all times
The guarantee of good working conditions that meet international standards
Advances in production techniques to ensure environmental sustainability
When these principles are adopted by a manufacturer, the level of trust between buyer and supplier (and ultimately the level of trust in the finished product from the end consumer) increases exponentially, allowing a natural state of traceability of product and accountability for its manufacture to exist.
The onus of adopting transparent manufacturing processes has largely rested upon the supplier themselves, but it is worth highlighting that there is an interesting groundswell emerging, that suggests that the brand, or the buyer, must also take responsibility for the product being purchased and follow the same transparent principles as those imposed upon their suppliers and take responsibility for communicating transparent initiatives effectively to the end consumer in a global standard format.
The concept of standardization was touched upon at length during the first panel discussion of Copenhagen Fashion Summit this year. It is now abundantly apparent that there needs to be a universal language and standardized policy, combined with one global strategy for advancing transparent trading practices and championing sustainable initiatives, compliance and improvements in social conditions for workers.
Such a strategy does not yet exist, but requires the brands and buyers to agree a global policy with standardized policies and methods of communicating the necessary information to the end consumer who needs to be made aware of changes that are taking place within the supply chain.
This policy then needs to be implemented throughout the global supply chain and communicated to the end consumer by the brands. As manufacturers, we follow the instructions of our immediate customers (the buyers) and it would be of great benefit to all if a standardized policy was in place, with accessible information available to manufacturers, buyers, and consumers.
It is crucial that the adoption of transparent trading principles should not serve as a competitive hurdle for one factory which is more transparent than another in another region of the world as the current state of affairs allows.
There are cost implications inherent in adopting transparent practices, and if one factory is fully transparent and compliant with all the stipulations from their customer, but another factory has different levels of compliance to achieve, there will be an immediate price disadvantage.
What I am asking for is a level playing field for all, regardless of where in the world manufacturing is taking place, hence the importance of establishing a standardized global policy.
Similarly, the level playing field approach needs to be applied to customers globally -- there needs to be one set of criteria established for manufacturing garments, regardless of the origin of the goods being manufactured.
Another aspect that needs to be considered when discussing transparency is that of cost. Who will bear the cost of upgrading factories to reach international standards? Traditionally the financial burden largely rests on the shoulders of the manufacturers, but surely the time has come when, in the true light of transparent business practices, the costs should be borne equally between supplier and customer; and communication to the end consumer regarding these cost implications should be handled by the buyers.
It may, indeed, be the time to establish minimum purchase prices on products to ensure the fair distribution of finances within the supply chain -- a fair price should be paid to all, and if that necessitates price rises then these need to be explained to the end consumer to ensure that we have a sustainable level of business and profit to develop for the future.
Transparency is definitely not the solution to the problems facing the garment industry, but is a massive step in the right direction. It is a means, but not an end in itself. As we enter the next phases of the development of our nation and the growth of the RMG sector, it is worth reminding ourselves that, as a nation, if we cannot produce garments in a fully transparent, sustainable, and socially sound manner, then we should not be producing them at all.
Mostafiz Uddin is the founder and CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) and Bangladesh Denim Expo. He is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He can be reached at [email protected]