A report released today by the Dutch Clean Clothes Campaign (SKC) and SOMO signals substandard reporting by companies that have signed the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile for corporate accountability in international supply chains.
This Agreement is part of a series of agreements per business sector supported by the Dutch government, and examines how the garment sector can operate more sustainably across borders. The aim of the Agreement is to tackle and prevent abuses – such as unsafe working conditions, child labour and starvation wages. This is desperately needed, because these kinds of problems are everyday reality in international garment supply chains.
The Agreement requires member companies to submit reports describing their efforts to identify and reduce abuses. SKC and SOMO looked at 34 of these reports and assessed the extent to which the reports corresponded to internationally agreed standards.
Risks, transparency, complaint mechanism and dialogue
The assessment shows that nearly all companies only reported on human rights risks at a country level. Unfortunately, only half of the 34 companies addressed specific problems in the factories they work with. Clear information on what companies are doing to address problems in their production chains and to improve them was also lacking. Most companies appear to have little or no dialogue with workers in their supply chains. According to the reports, companies that signed the Agreement do too little to explain to workers, trade unions and other stakeholders where they can go with complaints. Finally, few companies provided specific information about the factories on their websites, such as names and addresses.
Willemijn Rooijmans, researcher at SKC: ‘We are disappointed with the results. Actually, not a single brand is doing well. Essential elements of international corporate accountability are missing from the reports of the garment brands.’
Lack of action on a living wage and freedom of association
The Agreement aims to make progress on two important sector issues: freedom of association (the right to form trade unions) in factories and living wages. Although the importance of these issues is widely recognised by companies, the research shows a lack of concrete action on these two themes.
Setting obligations through legislation
The Dutch government is currently evaluating the Agreement system and will then draw conclusions about the measures to be taken.
Willemijn Rooijmans: ‘There’s not enough pressure in these kinds of voluntary alliances to achieve results. We also see that with similar initiatives abroad. We would rather see legislation that requires companies to make active efforts to prevent and tackle human rights violations in their supply chain. Companies would also have to report on this publicly. Independent supervision and sanctions for companies that fail in their efforts should be part of this legislation. That would be more effective and also fairer, because every company would be competing on the basis of the same principles.’
On 17 June, Dutch political parties ChristenUnie, GroenLinks, PvdA and SP submitted a private members’ bill, calling on the government to introduce a statutory minimum threshold for corporate accountability in the Netherlands. SKC and SOMO are pleased with this initiative.
With the Parliamentary elections of 2021 approaching, SKC and SOMO also call on other political parties to declare their position on international corporate accountability and to include clear language about it in their election programmes.