RSN Updates

Read our updates to learn more about RSN’s work.

Thursday
Sep012016

Say YESS!!

I am so excited that today my organization, Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN), is announcing the launch of our newest initiative, YESS: Yarn Ethically & Sustainably Sourced! It is something I have been thinking about since writing a business plan for it back in 2014 and conducting a feasibility study last year. Parts of the approach have changed since then, based on feedback from stakeholders, but the main vision hasn’t changed. YESS aims to create an industry-wide system that will help identify and eliminate forced labor from the fashion industry…all the way down to the dirt! It is inexcusable that in the 21st century, we have people being forced to work and they cannot freely walk away from their abusive situations. 

I believe the timing to launch our YESS initiative could not be better. There is momentum due to recent anti-slavery legislation, new software technologies are providing innovative supply chain transparency, the apparel industry is becoming more collaborative through the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and Social-Labor Convergence, and we have a great model to follow with the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI). We have known for years that the cotton supply chain is opaque and complex. Although a few companies committed to 100 % organic or Fairtrade know the origin and field conditions of their cotton, this is just a small percentage of the market as a whole. According to Textile Exchange, all of the “preferred” cottons together – which includes the two just mentioned plus Better Cotton Initiative, Cleaner Cotton, Cotton Made in Africa, and e3 – comprise less than 10 percent of cotton produced today. This begs the question, what are the labor conditions in the other 90 % of conventional cotton? At a minimum, we need to make sure it does not support modern slavery.

Unfortunately, cotton produced by forced labor is currently being documented in at least nine countries. Yarn mills located in Southern India use a form of bonded labor, which exploits over 100,000 adolescent girls. And over a million Uzbek nurses, teachers, and university students are forced to pick cotton each year or risk losing their jobs or getting expelled. The issue of modern slavery is rampant and beckons a solution. RSN’s game-changing initiative YESS: Yarn Ethically & Sustainably Sourced aspires to eradicate modern slavery in cotton harvesting and yarn production by verifying that yarn spinners are identifying and eliminating forced labor. YESS will engage, educate, and enable yarn spinners to implement the OECD risk-based due diligence system to address forced labor.

Because the yarn spinning mills are the ones that open up a bale of cotton and blend it together with other cotton from multiple locations, they are considered the “pinch point” for knowing where cotton originates and under what conditions it was harvested. Often brands do not know who these spinning mills are, as brands do not buy yarn, they buy finished garments. 

Due to new reporting requirements, companies are more motivated than ever to demonstrate and report on how they ensure there is no forced labor embedded in their value chains. Though it won’t be easy, YESS can work with brands to implement and report on their commitments to achieve slave-free cotton, yarn, and textiles in an efficient, effective, and credible manner. By engaging and empowering yarn spinners in the most opaque section of the value chain, YESS will increase transparency and accountability from field to fabric.

Collaborating to Eliminate Forced Labor

There are many key players engaged with the apparel industry who are doing their best to help the hundreds of thousands of human beings imprisoned by forced labor, including Anti-Slavery International, Clean Clothes Campaign, Cotton Campaign, Ethical Trading Initiative, Fair Labor Association, Fairtrade International, Solidaridad, and SOMO  (just to name a few). YESS plans to coordinate its activities with sustainable cotton, ethical apparel, and other complementary programs to promote collaboration in implementing due diligence to identify and address forced labor. Through collaboration, brands engaged with YESS will be able to make informed purchasing decisions and encourage improved working conditions in fields and mills.

To learn more about this groundbreaking initiative that will take us one step closer to a slave-free future, check out the YESS 2-page Overview and Slide Presentation. RSN is happily accepting endorsements for a Statement of Support from brands, NGOs, and other stakeholders. For more information, contact info@sourcingnetwork.org.

By Patricia Jurewicz, Director, Responsible Sourcing Network with contributions from Natalie Coney, RSN Intern.

Wednesday
Jul202016

Mining for Human Rights Performance in 2016

Companies, consultants, and human rights advocates are actively using the thought leadership and accountability in Mining the Disclosures, an annual evaluation of conflict minerals disclosure from Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN). Mining the Disclosures has been used in an array of academic, political, and economic investor analyses of how human rights performance can be measured.

Although many stakeholders use Mining the Disclosures, the primary audience is responsible investors. Through our work with conflict minerals, we continue to push for clearer links between investor decisions and human rights impacts.

Shareholders and stakeholders play a key role in changing the way business understands human rights performance. Companies can motivate suppliers to make sourcing decisions that leave the DRC and other conflict-affected regions more peaceful, free, and prosperous.

Mining the Disclosures 2016 will evaluate over 250 companies, from 25 different industry groups including Medical Devices, Aerospace & Defense, and Farm & Construction Equipment. It is scheduled for released in early October 2016.

Are most companies sourcing conflict-free?

Defining conflict-free is tricky, because we don’t want to incentivize companies to avoid sourcing from conflict-affected regions. In 2016, RSN will introduce a binary indicator of conflict-free: companies must detail efforts to eliminate conflict-affected minerals from their supply chain, while also continuing to source from within the region.

Even companies acting in good faith often struggle to trace minerals to where the raw ores are smelted or refined. Supply chains can be very complex and likely include enormous geographic, language, and regulatory gaps. By understanding the supply chain of each industry better in 2016, we hope to give credit where it is due.

Conflict Minerals show the tip of a human rights iceberg

Human rights don’t have borders. While the SEC’s Conflict Minerals Rule does not require companies to report on conflict-affected minerals beyond the DRC, or other human rights risks such as child labor within the DRC, it does bring the OECD’s risk-based due diligence approach to mainstream U.S. companies. In our expectations and analysis, we will continue to push companies to offer responsible investors more of the information they need — and help investors act on that information so that we can champion human rights together. 

Wednesday
Jul062016

Forward, not Backward on Conflict Minerals and Human Rights

Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act, has helped to shed light on global supply chains, helping investors understand whether their investments are fueling human rights abuse in the DRC. Now is NOT the time to defund the conflict minerals rule, but to build on it.

We must tell members of Congress who want to defund Section 1502: We want to go forward, not backward.

  • When they called a hearing in December, their own expert witness, Jeff Schwartz, instead of testifying against 1502 actually recognized the success of the private-sector driven Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative, called for closing loopholes and better enforcement of Section 1502, and argued for strengthening rather than repealing the reporting requirement.
  • Per-Olof Loof, the CEO of KEMET Corporation, testified that the law had brought about positive outcomes for both business and society.
  • Responsible Sourcing Network submitted a letter reiterating the importance of Section 1502 to major SRI investors.

Ongoing efforts to defund Section 1502 disregard the evidence that Section 1502 is highly valuable to investors, and a critical part of disrupting human rights abuses around the world.

As investors and consumers, we must tell Congress we want to go forward, not backward, on human rights due diligence.

Do your part for a more peaceful, prosperous world and call one or more of the following members of Congress who will vote TODAY on defunding 1502 and tell them NO to defunding 1502, and YES to guidance and oversight on human rights risk in investment decisions.

You can use this link to find your member’s twitter handle. Here are sample tweets you can use to tweet at members of Congress:

.@[insert representatives’ twitter handle here] #conflictminerals rule reduced $ to armed groups in DRC & improves transparency. Vote NO on Huizenga’s amendment to HR 5485 

 

Thursday
Jun302016

USG and ILO Reprimand Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for Slave-Cotton

As the country with the smallest population in Central Asia, Turkmenistan has rarely been in the spotlight on the global stage. This changed today, when the U.S. State Department downgraded Turkmenistan for using forced labor in its cotton sector in the annual Trafficking in Persons report. (RSN has written extensively about forced labor in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan, and over the last two years has worked in an increasing capacity with the Cotton Campaign to end forced labor in Turkmenistan, as well. Our partner Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) has documented the Turkmen government’s use of systematic forced labor throughout its cotton sector since the 2013 harvest.

ATN’s reporting, conducted with a network of informants throughout Turkmenistan, details the state-orchestrated, forced mobilization of farmers and public and private sector workers. The mobilization is a remnant of the former Soviet Republic’s centralized command economy. Since the collapse of the USSR, the authoritarian Turkmen government has exacerbated the issue, orchestrating a system in which citizens are exploited to meet yearly cotton quotas. In ATN’s report, public-sector workers detailed being threatened by their superiors with dismissal, docked pay, or forced to pay a fee if they refused to participate in the harvest. This state system of forced labor violates the fundamental human and labor rights of tens of thousands of Turkmen citizens each year.

After placing Turkmenistan on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year in 2015, the State Department was forced to either upgrade or downgrade the country’s ranking in 2016. To our satisfaction, the State Department downgraded Turkmenistan from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. This downgrade allows the country to be sanctioned under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act for Tier 3 countries, which provides more incentive for the Turkmen government to take definitive action to end its use of forced labor in the cotton sector.

Independently determined but aligned with the State Department’s position, earlier this month the ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards urged the government of Turkmenistan to take effective measures in law and in practice to ensure that no one, including farmers and public and private sector workers, is forced to work for the state sponsored cotton harvest.” The committee also stated that the Turkmen government should prosecute officials who participate in the forced mobilization of workers; seek the ILO’s assistance in applying international labor standards; and allow workers, employers, and civil society organizations to monitor the harvests without fear of repercussion.

We were also pleased to see that the State Department downgraded Turkmenistan’s neighbor Uzbekistan from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3 as well. In Tier 3, similar to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan can now be subject to sanctions, which places more international pressure on the government to combat forced labor in its cotton sector. The decision is also in line with the ILO’s recommendations to the Uzbek government, to take measures that ensure the complete elimination of the use of forced labor and achieve concrete results.

The State Department’s downgrade, in combination with the ILO’s recommendations, sends a strong message to global apparel and home goods brands that they should have rigorous processes to identify and eliminate Turkmen and Uzbek cotton from their value chains. Only by aligning trade practices with company commitments to fundamental labor conventions will we be able to end forced labor in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan’s cotton sectors. If the international community builds on the pressure of the downgrades to Tier 3, the citizens of these Central Asian countries may have reason to hope for light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday
Jun232016

Know the Chain’s First ICT Benchmark!

Know the Chain just released its first Information and Technology Communications (ICT) Benchmark on 20 companies’ efforts to prevent forced labor in their supply chains. This report is groundbreaking because it is the first public ranking of companies in regards to their anti-slavery efforts. This type of comparison is something investors, consumers and human rights activists have been waiting for.

The ICT Benchmark Findings Report shows that the majority of ICT companies reviewed are demonstrating a commitment to identifying forced labor in their own supply chains. However, there is still much more work to be done. The study found that the biggest area for improvement is giving workers at every level of the supply chain an avenue to voice their concerns. “Worker’s Voice” only had an average score of 16 out of 100 for the 20 companies reviewed. HP received the highest score across the seven categories with 72.

This ICT benchmark report is a great complement to RSN’s annual Mining the Disclosures report. It is no surprise that the areas of “Traceability and Risk Assessment” and “Monitoring” scored quite high due to the work ICT companies need to do regarding sourcing conflict minerals.

If you are interested in learning more about corporate due diligence in addressing conflict minerals’ risks, then be sure to keep an eye out for RSN’s Mining the Disclosure 2016 report, which will be released in early October.