KnowTheChain, an initiative led by Humanity United, and maintained through partnerships with the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Sustainalytics, and Verité, released its third and final benchmark report of 2016 today, which ranks 20 of the largest apparel and footwear companies on their efforts to address forced labor in their supply chains.
Of the companies ranked – which included adidas, Gap, H&M, Lululemon, Primark, Zara's parent company Inditex, PVH, Hanes, Gildan, Nike, L Brands, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, VF Corp., Fast Retailing - which is Uniqlo's parent company, Under Armour, Kering, and Prada, among others, adidas, Gap, and H&M scored the highest and Kering (which owns Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Bottega Veneta, among other consumers brands like Puma) and Prada.
The average overall score of the 20 companies that were ranked across seven measurement areas was 46 out of 100, "a relatively high number when compared to the other two sectors that KnowTheChain benchmarked earlier this year: information communications technology and food and beverage sectors."
According to KnowTheChain, “There is still significant room for improvement. For example, almost half of the 20 companies assessed still do not demonstrate awareness of and commitment to addressing human trafficking and forced labor in their supply chains, and the average scores on benchmark themes such as recruitment (22/100) and worker voice (29/100) are low.”
Most nations in the world participate to some degree in the textile and apparel sector, and the employment rate in this field is steadily increasing. Forced labor in this sector occurs both at the raw materials level and during the manufacturing stages of apparel and footwear companies’ supply chains. The report finds that all companies benchmarked can improve in rolling out programs that reach to all tiers of their supply chains.
Companies are encouraged to promote direct hiring of workers where possible, as well as to perform robust due diligence of third-party recruitment agencies. Companies are also encouraged to engage directly with supply chain workers outside the factory context, allowing companies to get a clearer picture of what is happening on the ground.
The latest benchmark also highlights some encouraging findings, according to KnowTheChain. For example, companies scoring above the average score of 46/100 have taken at least initial steps across all seven themes, and the six highest-scoring companies also demonstrate strong practices with respect to training and stakeholder engagement.
The Information Used as the Basis for This Ranking
One thing that seems to have been almost entirely overlooked in connection with the coverage of KnowTheChain's most recent ranking is the following: How did KnowTheChain acquire the information it used to rank the aforementioned companies? It is absolutely worth noting that according to KnowTheChain, it "assessed information available on each company’s own website, as well as additional public disclosure that 80% of the companies provided in response to engagement questions."
With this in mind, please do consider that a certain type of company, in particular, tends to skew the information it provides to the public, largely by only classifying its most immediate suppliers and not sub-level suppliers, which is why these companies - while looking good on paper - are most frequently tied to garment factory tragedies and various types of labor abuses.
This is not to say that high fashion houses are immune to shady dealings or that their supply chains are devoid of abuses - because that would be completely erroneous; it is not a coincidence, however, that fast fashion retailers are most commonly tied to grave safety and human rights abuses in connection with garment manufacturing, as indicated by the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2012 and the consistent slew of factors fires and large scale labor strikes that have occurred since them.
Given that the information used to compile this rank was self-supplied by the companies that were ranked, one must consider the reliability - or lack thereof - of the information provided by the ranked companies as an essential factor in terms of gauging the accuracy of the ranking.