Imagine work that changes lives for the better. Employment and income serving as the catalyst for millions of people to improve their lives.

Dignified and fair jobs provide a foundation for raising not only living standards but also people's aspirations. For women, employment is especially powerful in transforming lives. When more women work, economies grow. And when the share of household income controlled by women increases, their families benefit.

But today this promise of work is too often undermined by the problem of poor working conditions. Working long hours in unsafe conditions for meagre pay does not break the cycle of poverty or improve lives. An industry often focused on quick-changing, affordable and seasonal fashion that leads to low-cost, just-in-time production can contribute to such conditions.

Unlocking the potential of work to improve lives means breaking through assumptions of what is possible. We have found that taking risks, confronting ingrained behaviours and building unexpected relationships can effectively deliver change.

Mahmud/Map

In this section

  • 4.1

    Listening can improve lives

    Claudia Orozco explains how Yo Quiero Yo Peudo IMIFAP's training programme is improving garment workers' wellbeing and productivity.

    READ MORE
    Claudio Orozco
  • 4.2

    Revolutionary transparency

    Carry Somers on how the Transparency Index is encouraging brand behaviour change and accelerating a fashion revolution.

    READ MORE
    @wearezrcl #wearezrcl
  • 4.3

    Building a culture of transparency

    Transparency in the supply chain is vital. Garment manufacturer Hasan Mahmud shares what he learnt from the first Cotton2Cloth meeting.

    READ MORE
    Mahmud/Map
GRANT VALUE: €169,000
(2 years)
4.1

Listening can improve lives

Claudio Orozco

IndustriasCOS is one of the Mexican businesses benefiting from Yo Quiero Yo Puedo, IMIFAP's training programme to improve the health and wellbeing of garment workers. The results for this garment production company went well beyond employee wellbeing. Claudia explains how it boosted productivity, reduced absenteeism and created a workforce of healthier, happier people empowered to improve working conditions.

Caring for people has always been important to me. I started my company with the idea that I wanted to make a positive impact on people's lives. But this industry is tough. We have to deal with fast turnarounds, demand for lower prices, all while competing with other manufacturers. I'll be honest. The mechanics of the industry made me forget that I was dealing with people who were just like me, with the same fears, family issues and even money worries.

Yo Quiero Yo Puedo, IMIFAP is a Mexican non-governmental organisation (NGO) that empowers people to believe in themselves and become ‘agents of change’ in their own lives, and in others’. I wanted my company to take part in their training programme so that I could reconnect and listen to my employees, something I hadn't done in a long time.

Twenty-five employees from all levels of my company, including myself, took the training. There was some resistance to begin with, but that soon changed when we learned just how much room there was for improvement.

I found that most of my personnel didn’t understand their basic job requirements, which was the reason for so many mistakes. We acted on this by improving communication between line managers and their teams in a way that personnel could understand. Since then, the number of garments returned with errors has been reduced by half. There's less absenteeism. And we’ve seen a significant year-on-year increase in productivity – 25% in the first year, 30% in the second year.

The training also changed how my company approaches safety. We always asked employees to put safety first, but now they take that commitment genuinely and seriously. The training made us more human, we treat each other better now. We care for and support each other.

I heard that many employees were struggling in other parts of their lives. For example, many had to travel up to three hours to and from work every day. This meant they didn’t have much time with their families, or to go shopping or do exercise. I thought if we changed the working hours so people weren’t travelling at rush hour, we could reduce their commute. So, for a month, everyone came to work an hour earlier and left an hour earlier. As a result, commutes took just one hour and people got home in good time. After a month, we held a vote to find out whether we should keep the new schedule. We decided yes.

My company is a better place to work now. But times are hard and we need more work. It’s important that companies, like C&A, choose their suppliers carefully. We’re at least as productive as our competitors, and our people are almost certainly happier. We can continue to produce garments effectively and competitively while improving employees' lives if garment-buying companies commit to choosing responsible suppliers.

Many people in Mexico struggle with self-esteem issues. This training goes beyond improving day-to-day work for my employees, it makes them believe they can create change – for themselves, their company and their country.

The Yo Quiero, Yo Peudo ripple effect

218 Area Managers went through a 40-hour training course.
Those participants passed on what they learnt to 34 production
units training a further 2,575 workers.

218

area managers

40

hours

34

production units

2575

workers

Programme results (2014-16)

The most significant improvements were made in:

Relationships

Job satisfaction
and productivity

Gender equality

Health and self-care

GRANT VALUE: €450,000 (3 years)
4.2

Revolutionary
transparency

Making fashion supply chains more transparent will take the combined efforts of NGOs, brands, factories, workers and the public. Carry Somers, founder of Fashion Revolution, fashion designer and director of Pachacuti, explains how the Transparency Index is creating a ripple effect of positive behaviour change from brands that's helping to accelerate a fashion revolution.

Right now, the public doesn't have enough information about where and how clothes are made. We can't hold companies or governments to account if we can't truly see what's happening. That's why we created the Transparency Index.

The Index provides insight into how much people can find out about the clothes they buy. Based on publicly disclosed information, we ranked 100 brands according to how much information about their social and environmental policies, practices and impact they share with the public.

But the Index isn't just a tool for changing consumer behaviour. We're trying to change the context and the conversation around transparency for the industry. And it's working. We've seen a ripple effect of positive behaviour change from brands.

Over the last 12 months, brands including C&A, Marks & Spencer, GAP and VF Corporation have published their factory lists. Inditex has published a list of the facilities where their clothes are dyed, washed, printed and where leather is tanned. And Uniqlo and JeansWest published a list of 80% of their suppliers.

Transparency has never been so in fashion. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, customers are demanding change. In 2016, 129 million unique users engaged with #whomademyclothes. Combine that with policies like the California Transparency Act and the Modern Slavery Act. The pressure from above and below means that to survive and thrive, brands must put transparency to the fore.

Bryan Berry
Claudio Orozco

I hope brands will use the Index to compare their score to others and ask questions like “What are they doing that we’re not?” The scores can help brands identify any gaps, which means they can strengthen their policies, practices, and impact and make them public.

The Index also supports organisations trying to create change on the ground. One of the questions we ask is: "Is this factory list in searchable format?" Access to supplier information helps NGOs, unions and community groups to alert brands more swiftly to environmental and/or human rights abuses. In fact, NGOs are starting to use findings from the Index to put pressure on brands to meet industry practices in terms of disclosing supply chain information. This dialogue is vital to creating systemic change.

Moving forward, we plan to grow the number of brands in the 2018 Index from 100 to 150 brands. We'll also include bigger, global brands, as well as those with private label lines. And we'll opensource our methodology so everyone can use it to understand how policies are being put into practice.

Some may have questioned whether Fashion Revolution was best placed to create the Index and methodology given our experience. But we're the best placed to get the information that matters to brands, customers and the press in an accessible, non-academic way. We know how to use creative communications to inspire people to take action. We extensively consulted industry experts to improve our methodology, but we're also making sure that the Index's findings are understood and making a real impact around the world.

Development of Index

40 brands ranked in 2015

100 brands ranked in 2016

2016

2015

How much information do brands share about their suppliers?

0

out of 100 brands are publishing suppliers lists (which covers at least tier 1)

0

out of 100 brands are publishing their processing facilities where clothes are dyed, printed and finished

0

brands are publishing details about their raw material suppliers

GRANT VALUE: €182,000 (in December 2016)
4.3

Building a culture
of transparency

Mahmud/Map

The Cotton2Cloth meeting was the first time that representatives from the entire supply chain came together to find ways to increase transparency. Hasan Mahmud – a garment manufacturer – shares his perspective of the meeting that built a space for dialogue and unlocked collective insight to find solutions that will accelerate industry transparency.

It is widely acknowledged that the apparel system should be transparent. But there is a focus on hierarchy when, really, lack of transparency is much more about culture than people realise. I see no bigger challenge for maintaining transparency than making sure it is culturally relevant.

In my region in Bangladesh, parents are not open with their children and children are not open with their parents. They don't share things with each other. And that culture travels to the work place too between management and workers – there's not a lot of openness.

In December 2016, on behalf of the Bitopi Group, I attended the first ever Cotton2Cloth Transparency Meeting, hosted by C&A Foundation, Humanity United, Open Society Foundations and Transparentem.

The meeting brought together 57 representatives from 12 countries across all levels of the supply chain. People had some reservations before going to the meeting, but I think that's normal. For most of us, it was the first time we’d ever interacted with each other.

Workers had reservations with their employers because now, they just work on the machines and are not allowed to know anything else. But they have the right to know how their factory is performing. If their workplace is being audited, workers should know what the audit team is looking for and how to make improvements, rather than being left out of the conversation.

Sitting around the same table meant everyone could talk openly for the first time about these issues. It gave us the opportunity to understand one another, correct misunderstandings and find solutions together. It made us understand our rights and obligations to one another, and how that will make for better business. While the norm is for manufacturers and factory owners to not share information with workers, the meeting gave us a different perspective: sharing information could be an opportunity. We can earn confidence from our workers if we are open. If we explain why we made a profit this year, but we didn’t last year, we can start a conversation about how to continue achieving profit in the next year. That's one thing that I've taken back to my factory. We invite workers' representatives to meetings so they are always up to date and know what is happening at the factory.

Going forward, I believe transparency will only work in a customised form. Maybe transparency in Bangladesh is not as open as other parts of the world. But, by making policies that work for our culture, in collaboration with everyone in the supply chain, we can make sure they are disseminated, regulated and easily put into practice. I didn't think this meeting would be as successful as it was. I just have one question: when is the next one?

Transparency:
a tool for positive change

By bringing leaders from all levels of the supply chain, including those traditionally left out of the conversation, we could find new ways to overcome working conditions challenges. Here are some of the commitments participants made during the meeting:

"I will spend time with workers and set a training session every week on how to develop themselves giving space for them to speak and share their thoughts."
"I will make sure my factory is compliant with the highest buyer standards."
"Engage the NGO community, brands, and other stakeholders to create an industry-wide credible system providing information to consumers on brand performance on labour and environmental issues so that market forces can drive better results"
"Explore collective purchasing with other brands at the mill level so that we can have greater influence on social/environmental practices."

Najma's story
When workers are empowered to speak for themselves, they can play a huge role in improving working conditions. Najma, a garment worker in Bangladesh, shares her story.