Gap Inc. announced that it is releasing a list of global factories that produce clothing across its five brands — including Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta and Intermix — in a push for increased transparency.
The initiative comes on the heels of fellow retailers that have also started to publicly share factory lists, most recently UK-based Marks & Spencer and Belgium-based C&A. The move marks an evolution for Gap Inc., which was previously hesitant to reveal its factory lists for fear of competition.
Gap Inc. spokeswoman Laura Wilkinson said the decision was part of the company’s ongoing commitment to improving factory conditions, including streamlining its approved list of factories from 1,255 to 892 over the past five years as part of an effort to select suppliers that “create greater and more lasting change.”
“As we deepen our commitment to sustainability throughout our global business, we regularly assess our work to determine whether new approaches are needed to help unlock solutions to the complex challenges we face,” she said.
Disclosing factory lists helps hold Gap Inc. accountable to operations, particularly as concern over worker safety has been magnified in the wake of incidents like the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 employees. The incident, often cited as the deadliest garment-related disaster in history, has sparked widescale discussion over how the rise of fast fashion has exasperated the exploitation of workers in struggling countries.
The list will be shared biannually in an attempt to mitigate human rights violations and was lauded by members of Human Rights Watch and the fashion industry alike.
“[These companies] are sending an important message that transparency should be the norm in the garment industry,” Aruna Kashyan, senior women’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch said in a statement on the organization’s website.
Kathleen Wright — founder of Piece & Co., a company that connects brands with artisans around the world focused on sustainable sourcing — said the announcement sends an important message to fashion brands. Gap is joining companies like Adidas, Nike, Patagonia and Target that also share factory lists, setting a precedent given their size and clout, she said.
“When a big brand steps forward like this it’s exciting because it shows that if a company at this scale can make a change like this, other more nimble companies can do the same,” Wright said.
She added that companies must be cognizant of growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly offerings — publishing factory lists is the first step in transparent operations, driving a larger conversation on ways to operate sustainably.
“Brands are realizing that they need to talk about the way their products are made because consumers are demanding it,” Wright said. “Any brand that is acknowledging that consumers are wanting these changes are on top of the game.”
Transparency has been a mounting priority in the fashion industry for both independently owned and major corporations in recent years. Smaller brands like American Giant and luxury cashmere company Naadam have been particularly open about sourcing along its supply chain. Brooke Blashill, svp and director at Boutique@Ogilby, told Glossy in May that brands of all sizes are more inclined to lift the veil as sustainability becomes more of a collaborative venture with consumers.
“Brands have been nervous about exposing themselves as working toward sustainability because if they’re not totally there, they think it makes them look bad,” said Blashill. “But customers now are willing to go on a journey with a brand, provide feedback and see what changes.”
Kashyab of Human Rights Watch added that concealing factory lists only harms brands and generates questions about their commitment to human rights.
“The growing number of apparel industry leaders disclosing factories is good news for workers, the industry, and consumers,” she said. “Brands that do not disclose are holding out on a critical tool that can promote worker rights. They should stop making excuses.”