The New Era of Voluntary Codes

The fashion industry still vividly remembers the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 in Bangladesh, which killed over 1,100 garment factory workers. Do we really need another tragedy to remind us of the importance of sustainable supply chains?

The tragic event forced some retailers to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, pledging to improve conditions for their suppliers’ employees.

However, too many agreements, alliances, and initiatives is not necessary beneficial. Rather, what the industry needs is a standard or a code, which will align all retailers and allow them to be on the same page. Luckily, this is the aim of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). By setting common goals and communicating their agendas, retailers have been able to reduce overlap, especially when it comes to such things as supply chain partners or auditing. The efficiency of the industry has improved and, as such, there is hope that the quality and conditions of work have enhanced, as well.

While such collaborations are commendable, we are worried that retailers will stop being innovative and simply follow what is being asked of them. Rather, as law students who believe in the impact of sustainable fashion, we think that retailers should continue to pave the way and break new ground when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), sustainability, and ethics.

Ideally, retailers should set voluntary codes, which would not only enhance their operations, but it would also show the fashion industry that there is still more work to be done. In fact, that is what Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop did when she refused to allow her products to be tested on animals. These codes would be voluntary, which means that they are not government-imposed, but retailers are still forced to live up to them.

We recognize that this may cause CSR and sustainability to be seen as a mere competitive edge rather than the industry-wide goal that it should be. But, if it will enhance the quality of work and prevent similar tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, we are all for it!

Inspired by Rivet and Jeans.

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