RSN Survey Results: Corporate Practices to End Forced Labor in the Cotton Industry

To fulfill their obligations under SB-657, companies are mandated to disclose information on what steps they are taking to address slavery and trafficking in their supply chains. This includes: 1. addressing risks; 2. auditing suppliers for compliance; 3. requiring certified materials; 4. maintaining internal accountability…

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February 19, 2014
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cotton sourcing snapshot cover 500x622To fulfill their obligations under SB-657, companies are mandated to disclose information on what steps they are taking to address slavery and trafficking in their supply chains. This includes: 1. addressing risks; 2. auditing suppliers for compliance; 3. requiring certified materials; 4. maintaining internal accountability standards; and 5. training employees. Although 79% of the companies in the KnowTheChain dataset address at least three of the five requirements, much of the disclosed information lacks clarity and depth.

How can we get more detail about the truth behind these disclosures? We know many companies have policies against forced labor that apply to their direct suppliers, but how are companies holding suppliers deeper in their supply chains accountable? How much information is publicly available about what countries and which factories companies are using to source their products?

That is what Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) sought to uncover regarding forced labor in the cotton industry by surveying 49 apparel and home goods companies. Several of the surveyed companies are in the KnowTheChain dataset, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Gymboree, Macy’s, Target and Walmart.

On Thursday, February 20, RSN will release “Cotton Sourcing Snapshot: A Survey of Corporate Practices to End Forced Labor,” with an accompanying webinar event. The Cotton Sourcing Snapshot captures corporate responses to a survey that explores the extent of company practices in the areas of Policy, Public Disclosure, Engagement, and Implementation & Auditing.

Of the companies RSN surveyed, about half appear in KnowTheChain’s dataset. All 24 have published statements that address the majority of the SB-657 criteria. While some of these disclosure statements reflect particularly strong policy commitments, overall the high disclosure rate among the surveyed companies may still not provide the information investors and consumers desire to fully understand activities corporations are undertaking to address this issue.

The intention of the RSN survey was to identify specifically how companies are finding and eliminating the risk of slave labor embedded in the yarn and textiles of their product supply chains. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 18 countries are currently listed as producing cotton using forced or child labor. To eliminate risky cotton, leading companies are taking action to identify the source of the cotton in their products and integrate due diligence if it is coming from one the listed countries. The forthcoming Cotton Sourcing Snapshot captures multiple best practices that others can replicate.

Learn more about the survey results by joining RSN’s Cotton Sourcing Snapshot webinar on Thursday, February 20 at 10am PST/1pm EST. Click here to register.

Patricia Jurewicz is founder and director of Responsible Sourcing Network. She can be reached at patricia@sourcingnetwork.org.