Though the fashion industry has made a concerted effort toward transparency, many brands still know little about where their products are made or even the location of their factories, or don’t disclose them.
To combat this, a consortium of organizations is creating a list of factories in Bangladesh, along with their working conditions and brands that produce there.
The consortium — which has the weighty name of Digital Ready Made Garment Factory Mapping Bangladesh — expects to release its findings in 2018 in the form of an interactive map that companies and consumers can consult when making sourcing and shopping decisions. The goal is to help a country that has been rife with worker exploitation and a subject of global concern since the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the second-largest garment producing country in the world, that killed more than 1,000 employees.
Leading the consortium is C&A Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Dutch retail brand C&A, which has advocated for workers’ rights. In April, it launched an initiative called LaborVoices to help employees in Turkey anonymously share feedback on working conditions. C&A then compiled a report aimed at spurring change in the industry.
For the Bangladesh effort, C&A is teaming with BRAC University, a college and NGO based in Bangladesh, as well as the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. Parveen Huda, project manager of the initiative, said that the map will operate similarly to Google Maps, providing coordinates and basic information about each factory. Users will be able to click on each factory for more information. The map will be online and accessible globally. A crowdsourcing section will let users provide feedback.
“Often, brands themselves are not aware of each factory that produces their garments,” Huda said. “The availability of [the map] will provide the tools for achieving increased disclosure and transparency that can be very useful to brands. Transparency will enable brands to trace operations. Brands can use this information to augment audits, mitigate risks and develop greater understandings of production.”
Huda said information will be tracked using a census method, which will involve physically visiting each existing factory in the country to obtain specific information. These factories will encompass all forms of production, from cut-and-sew shops to printing and embroidery facilities. She said there were several barriers to creating a map of this scale in previous years, including lack of technological resources and a void of factory information.
“This program is a unique opportunity to transform Bangladesh, advocate a collective action approach among stakeholders and advance the sector to contribute to the country’s equitable growth,” she said.
Photo courtesy of International Labor Organization Bangladesh