Introduction and vision
The IAF firmly believes that global responsibility is one of the main strategic issues facing the global apparel industry. As part of its GR action plan, the IAF has held a questionnaire among its members. 60% of the respondents answered that they viewed global corporate responsibility as a strategic issue requiring full attention of their association or company.
Global Responsibility is both a threat and an opportunity for the apparel industry. Appalling industrial accidents such as the Rana Plaza and Tazreen disasters in Bangladesh obviously are a major threat to the industry, tarnishing the reputation of the global apparel chain and ultimately the reputation of apparel as a desirable product. Also, the logical reaction by citizens to these disasters is to ask their governments to help prevent them from happening. This leads to a serious threat of global fragmentation of legislation.
But Global Responsibility is also a major opportunity for the apparel industry and this is often overlooked. The apparel industry undeniably plays a big role in the industrial development of many countries creating millions of jobs worldwide. Interestingly, the industry also offers good opportunities for investments. Where big improvements in production infrastructure can still be made, big productivity gains and big improvements in working conditions can be combined.
IAF’s GR questionnaire also showed that 50% of its members say that the big fragmentation of audit schemes currently in place to control and improve labour conditions and environmental impacts is considered a major problem. The apparel industry worldwide is spending billions of dollars too much on overlapping audits and tests. This is hurting the industry and taking away money needed to actually make improvements. Audit fatigue refers to the self-defeating effect of tens or even hundreds of audits per year that may be held at apparel manufactures.
The IAF does not believe in simply trying to come with one new global compliance scheme. However, there should be more agreement among the international apparel community about the fundamentals of apparel company’s approach to global responsibility, especially in the case of social compliance. This will help to make the audit organisations more alike, making it easier for them to work together, focussing more on remediation and helping to reduce audit fatigue.
In 2013 two horrible industrial accidents have taken place in Bangladesh, both in factories producing garments. The enormous magnitude of the disasters and the human suffering visible all over the world brought forth an unprecedented movement of the global fashion industry. Actually and ironically this drive is helping to form a more concerted global approach to GR in the fashion industry.
Out of the undeniably positive drive for global cooperation among brands and retailers to help prevent more fire and building collapse casualties we must try to help forge structures to deal with similar problems in other countries. These structures must include SMEs, the role of industry associations and a true cooperation between buyers and manufacturers based on knowledge transfer and making real improvements.
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- Remediation (in the sense of ‘repairing’) is the key word. Improvements in labour conditions and environmental impact often are hindered by lack of knowledge, so education and training is very closely linked to remediation.
Actions on remediation
- The industry needs a common framework to show and align its continuous efforts to improve labour and environmental conditions. In this respect the Ruggie Framework developed by the United Nations was suggested as a logical and useful guideline for the IAF to publically adopt
Actions on creating a common framework
- Reaching SMEs, both on the side of suppliers as on the side of the buyers is important. Presently, groups of large brands and retailers are shaping the industry’s GR policy’s. But a major part of the turnover of the global fashion industry is made by companies with less than € 100 million and they obviously cannot all directly join initiatives such as the Accord. But they need to be part of the solutions of the future. And their industry associations, who are in a position to be catalysts of change in the industry in their respective countries, need to be connected as well.
Actions on reaching SMEs
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- The IAF believes in knowledge transfer and this starts at the fashion management schools. Partly for this reason the IAF has entered into an agreement with the International Federation of Fashion Technology Institutes (IFFTI). Part of this agreement is the structural advice given by IAF to IFFTI on key issues that should be taught to students. Global Responsibility is one of the most important subjects to implement into the teaching program.
- The IAF actively acquires subsidised projects with its members containing knowledge transfer about global responsibility. Currently it has started a project with its member BKMEA (Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association) and it is working with its member Actif Africa to acquire new projects.
- The Ruggie ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework and part of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises help industry and governments define their roles in making real and realistic improvements in working conditions. The OECD is supporting industry’s in ‘translating’ the guidelines to practical industry actions. This means in practice that the IAF is in discussion with the OECD now to find a way to start a global project involving the apparel industry.
- The IAF has chosen to support global cooperation schemes of large brands and retailers that are already in existence, such as the SAC. It’s role is to provide the necessary bridge between the SMEs, represented by IAF’s member associations and these global cooperation schemes. This means in practice that:
- The IAF and SAC will work together structurally. An MoU is in the making. A pilot whereby MODINT, the Dutch industry association and member of the IAF is communicating the advantages of the SAC’s Higg index to its members is being carried out.
- The IAF is negotiating with the Steering Committee of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and with the Alliance on Factory Safety in Bangladesh about representation of its membership.
Reaching and representing SMEs
The IAF is clearly representing the thousands of small and medium enterprises in the agreements that are mainly run by very large apparel companies. Through the IAF, companies and the national associations that represent them have a clear voice in such international coalitions as the SAC and The Accord in Bangladesh.
We actively support IAF members in shaping their GR policy based on our vision and on our knowledge of the direction international developments are taking. We help associations to create the message they can send to their members. We help associations form their positions toward their respective governments on this issues. And we actively represent associations and their members in the most influential global groupings of large companies that are shaping and developing the industry’s Global Responsibility policy. And we work with associate members that are able to offer unique value to our association and corporate members in de field of GR.
IAF members can ‘unlock’ their IAF’s services in the field of GR simply by calling or by emailing the Secretariat. We will then first make a tailor made plan of action.
All IAF members are frequently update about the actions taken by the IAF in the field of GR through the IAF website, the GR newsletter and the IAF general newsletter. The IAF is also a frequent speaker on this subject at international fora.
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