Every retailer, who opens their doors to sell apparel to the public, has a real responsibility to ensure the garments they sell, have been ethically sourced, and their suppliers are maintaining acceptable standards of environmental accountability.

It is too easy as a buyer/retailer to blame down the chain. With the recent tragedies in Bangladesh, we saw examples of some retailers denying knowledge of these factories being used to produce their orders. It can be common practice for factories to outsource their production if deadlines are looming. Missing a deadline will mean an automatic discount taken on orders by most retailers, and with the margins for factories being tight at the best of times, this has to be avoided at all costs.

In addition, with retailers experiencing one of the most difficult trading periods in history, we are seeing a constant cycle of discounting, or a strategy of chasing the everyday lowest price. Consequently corners are cut across the product development process to achieve the cheapest cost price possible. Natural fibers are mixed with a higher percentage of manmade fibers to reduce raw material costs, stitch density is minimized in construction, top stitching is removed from garments, the complexity of the design is simplified to bring down the make cost and cheaper quality zips are utilized. A blind eye is often turned to the wages and labor conditions in cheaper manufacturing markets such as Bangladesh. Until a tragedy strikes, a factory collapses, or workers are secretly filmed locked inside until their shift ends at 2am, and a media storm ensues, ignorance is bliss.

However, reading a recent case study shows us just how effective retailers can be if they forge partnerships with their textile industry partners. A successful partnership needs to be built on trust and respect like any relationship. When Redbud was named as one of the poorest performers for environmental compliance, Walmart one of their largest customers, showed real leadership. Rather than giving an ultimatum and turning their backs, they enlisted the help of the NDRC and worked with the Mill to drive real change. The financial outcomes, especially when compared to the initial outlay required, are phenomenal.

Well-done Walmart! For their great leadership shown in this instance.

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