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Article

23 Jul 2020

Author:
Christie Miedema, Clean Clothes Campaign

Commentary: Binding Brands to Create Change

Following a series of exposés in the 1990s documenting horrific conditions in sweatshops, brands took action to curate codes of conduct and imposed them on supplier factories. This progressed to the emergence of a social auditing industry to oversee suppliers’ compliance, as well as social compliance initiatives to synchronize and oversee these codes, often in the form of voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs). This all prompts the question: given the tools brands have created to regulate working conditions in the garment industry, why are workers being left to suffer during the pandemic?

The answer lies within the mechanism of these voluntary MSIs. Behind the façade of battling exploitation, MSIs have become little more than a fig leaf for fashion; a tool enabling brands to dictate the rules, while shielding the industry against responsibility and criticism, rather than protecting the workers...

MSIs’ complaint mechanisms still remain useful avenues for workers and labor rights activists to appeal to if a member brand is unresponsive to resolve a case of labor rights violations [...] the same limitations apply: the outcome is not binding...

By now, it must be clear to all that we have to leave the era of voluntary self-monitoring behind us. In April, Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced the EU will be working towards mandatory due diligence legislation...

We have known for years that binding works and that there are ways to introduce it into how stakeholders change the industry together...

We have to rethink what MSI’s actually contribute to workers’ rights. Stakeholder cooperation to improve labor rights can be meaningful only if the agreement is concrete, the implementation is transparent, and the commitments are binding. If we truly want to leave the lawlessness of early globalization behind us, concrete binding regulations and agreements making due diligence mandatory are the way forward.

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