Brands and retailers

Macy’s will cut 10,000 jobs after poor holiday sales: Struggling with sagging sales over another crucial holiday shopping season, Macy’s announced last week that it was eliminating more than 10,000 jobs as part of a continuing plan to cut costs and close 100 stores (04 Jan 17).

Sears and Kmart closing another 150 stores as holiday sales plummet: The declining retailer, which operates Sears department stores and the Kmart discount chain, said last week that same store sales at Sears and Kmart for the first two months of the holiday season quarter declined in the range of 12-13 per cent (06 Jan 17).

The Limited is closing all 250 of its stores: Women's apparel chain The Limited on Sunday began closing all 250 of its stores across the United States and is slashing 4,000 jobs, the latest casualty of shopping’s move online and the growth of fast fashion chains (09 Jan 17).

Selfridges launches sustainability venture: Selfridges has embarked on a new sustainability campaign that has taken over the windows of the retailer’s London flagship. Named 'Material World', the focus of the project will be to investigate new materials and production alternatives for sustainable textile development (05 Jan 17).

Ralph Lauren joins fight to ensure fabrics not damaging forests and lives: Ralph Lauren unveils plans to trace wood pulp used in its clothes to avoid buying from regions destroying forests or violating human rights (06 Jan 17).

Marli upcycles leather offcuts into tote bags: Marli, an emerging French handbag label launched in May 2016 by Amélie Prêtre, has made upcycling its distinctive feature right from the word go. Its first tote-bag collection was created using upholstery scraps unearthed in flea markets or at garage sales (06 Jan 17).

Luxury teddy bear company under fire for using real fur: A French company has come under fire for making teddy bears with real animal fur. The luxurious soft toy manufacturer "Histoire de Bêtes" makes its teddies with rabbit, mink and coypu fur, with an added piece of crocodile skin for the teddy bear's nose. Prices can reach up to €1,800 per teddy (05 Jan 17).

Teen falls to his death on H&M work site: A 17-year-old installing a glass ceiling at a new H&M store in Perth, Western Australia, fell 12-metres to his death from scaffolding at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday morning last week. It is understood the store was scheduled to open in mid-November last year at the Forrest Chase site, but that deadline was missed. The delay put pressure on the contractor who was working through the night to try and get the space ready. An investigation into the teen’s death is underway. In a statement, H&M said it was cooperating with police investigating the fatality (05 Jan 17).

Reports, Guidelines and Standards

New code of conduct for children’s rights organisations in China to help combat child labour (in Chinese): Here’s a very interesting initiative from China that should be of interest to any brand/retailer committed to eradicating child labour in supply chains in that country. News of it came to me via Inno (a China-based non-profit organisation, which advocates and drives innovative community development projects) [Full disclosure: I was involved in training and establishing Inno more than ten years ago.] Inno, along with LMN (a provider of professional advisory services and technical support to public welfare undertakings in China), has developed a code of conduct for organisations focused on children's rights (including, of course, child labour). The aim is to help such organisations to start from scratch by understanding, committing to and working to reduce violations of children’s rights. Recent cases of child labour in China – and the uproar surrounding them – have put this issue squarely in the public arena, and this document (“Conduct Guidelines for Children’s Rights Organizations in Mainland China”) lays out appropriate conduct for organisations wanting to tackle child related issues. It’s an important first step; organisations should ensure their own house is in order before they start working with children. Inno, and the organisations who jointly drafted the Guideline (Save the Children, Beijing Social Organization Development Centre, Beijing Facilitator, and Beijing Leadership Matrix Network) expect groups working on child welfare issues to implement the code so that children under their care are protected. As I said, it’s a great initiative, and should help to build confidence in organisations that sign up to it. As a brand/retailer, it’s important to know that your NGO partners working on child labour are themselves behaving in an exemplary fashion when it comes to interacting with and caring for children. There is no such Guideline in China at present. If you are interested in this, please contact GoBlu for an English-language version of the Guideline (it’s about 1,300 words in length); or – if you want – we can introduce you to Inno in China to talk about it in more detail. 

Fair fashion, a look at the challenges of making the industry more transparent: An episode of Al Jazeera’s panel show The Stream, which asks – in light of the recent strikes in Bangladesh – what more can be done to raise labour standards to create a more ethical business model for the fashion industry in Bangladesh and beyond (04 Jan 17).

6 experts reveal the sustainable fashion projects to watch in 2017: Six experts in the sustainable fashion industry share the projects they’re most excited to watch in 2017 (04 Jan 16).

Research assesses ISIS cotton risks: New research into the Syrian cotton sector suggests there is just a low risk of cotton associated with the Islamic State entering the supply chains of European manufacturers and, consequently, Western brands (04 Jan 16 – requires subscription to read full article).

UN agency data on labour migration shows 150 million migrants in global workforce: 83.7 million are men and 66.6 million women. Labour migration is a phenomenon that concerns all regions of the world, however, almost half, or 48.5 per cent, of migrant workers are concentrated in two broad regions: Northern America, and Northern, Southern and Western Europe. The Arab States have the highest proportion of migrant workers as a share of all workers with 35.6 per cent (05 Jan 17). See the full report here (large PDF).

US reveals terrorist threat on garment buyers in Bangladesh: It is the first such threat specifically targeting the global fashion industry, according to industry officials (05 Jan 17). See US Department of State travel warning here.

Oeko-Tex updates certification regulations: The new regulations for STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® will come definitely into force on 1 April 2017 following a three-month transition period. At the parameter “per- and polyfluorinated compounds”, a large number of substances have been added or listed explicitly by name in product class I (items for babies and small children) and provided with limit values. As a result, in product class I, the use of per- and polyfluorinated compounds is severely restricted and nearly eliminated (05 Jan 17).

Here’s how much it actually costs to make your shirt: Last week, Liz Pape, founder and CEO of Nashville-based clothing label Elizabeth Suzann, posted a story to her company’s blog titled “Money Talk” that, well, got a lot of people talking. (06 Jan 17) See the full blog post here. It’s very interesting.

India bans imports of reptile skins, mink and fox furs: After the publication of videos showing evidence of abuse in breeding farms in Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Texas, India's Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has announced a ban on the imports of reptile skins and also on mink, fox and chinchilla furs (06 Jan 17).


High fashion from Icelandic fish leather: There is one tannery in Europe that makes fish leather. It is called Atlantic Leather and it’s located in the small town Sauðárkrókur, North Iceland. Fish skin is a by-product of all of the fish caught, consumed or sold out of the country. It is basically trash, or was before Atlantic Leather started using it to make leather out of it around 20 years ago (03 Jan 17).

Breathing life into China’s dying crafts: At her workshop in a remote valley in one of China’s poorest provinces, Pan uses traditional techniques passed down for generations to create an indigo-dye batik scarf embellished with patterns inspired by her ethnic Shui minority. But her handicrafts aren’t for family members. They’re destined for affluent buyers thousands of kilometres away (06 Jan 17).

Rising demand for environmentally friendly dyestuff: It took the world an enormous amount of time, a lot of observation, and many negative effects before it realized the consequences of dumping chemical effluents in nature and how it had slowly started disturbing the ecological balance. In recent years, the realization of the fact that chemical dyes constitute a major source of water and other forms of environmental pollution, and thus awareness of the need for controlling their widespread use by seeking better alternatives, has led governments to ramp up their efforts at controlling the type and extent of chemicals that are passed on into the environment (06 Jan 17).

Could you wear only six things for six weeks? The Six Items Challenge is designed to challenge our increasing reliance on fast fashion and raise vital funds which will enable Labour Behind the Label to keep fighting for the justice that garment workers deserve (Jan 17).

The Supply Chain

Reporter arrested over coverage of Bangladesh garment industry strike: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling for the immediate release of Nazmul Huda, a reporter who was arrested on 24 December because of his coverage of a strike by garment workers in Ashulia, the Dhaka suburb where Bangladesh’s biggest garment factories are located (30 Dec 16).

23 labour rights groups ask two dozen brands to help with release of detained labour leaders after Dhaka strikes: 23 unions and labour rights groups (including the International Trade Union Confederation, IndustriAll Global Union, AFL-CIO, Clean Clothes Campaign, and the International Labor Rights Forum) have written a letter (see here - PDF) to more than two dozen brands to play a role in protecting worker rights in the aftermath of the strikes that started in Dhaka in late December. The letter askes companies to “immediately contact the Bangladesh government and urge them to release the detained labor leaders, disclose the whereabouts of any labor leaders or advocates who are unaccounted for, drop unsubstantiated charges against these leaders, and cease all forms of harassment and intimidation against labor activists [sic] exercise of their fundamental rights of expression and association” (04 Jan 17).

Al Jazeera covers Dhaka labour unrest in two TV reports, alleges worker blacklists circulating among factory owners: In one report (2:17 minute video), a worker sacked for taking part in the recent strikes alleges “his name is [now] on a blacklist circulated amongst garment owners.” He says he joined the strike, protested peacefully, and questions why his name is now on such a list that prevents him from working. Among others interviewed is Moshrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers Unity Forum and named in the letter sent by 23 labour rights groups to brands and retailers (see story above). The second report (here, 37:10 minute video) is an episode of The Stream, a current affairs show in a panel discussion format. This episode examines the Dhaka strikes, Bangladesh factory conditions, the fashion industry, and what can be done to raise labour standards. (02 Jan 17, and 01 Jan 17).

IndustriALL Global Union says crackdown on garment workers in Bangladesh must stop: : IndustriALL Global Union is “calling for an immediate end to the persecution of garment workers, trade union leaders and worker activists in Bangladesh in light of a sinister crackdown by government authorities.” IndustriALL notes that of the 11 union leaders and workers’ rights advocates detained over the past two weeks, seven are members of three IndustriALL trade union affiliates in Bangladesh – the BGIWF, SBGWF and BIGUF (05 Jan 17).

Police and fear stalk the streets of Dhaka as clothes workers fight for more than £54 a month: Garment workers in Bangladesh endure harsh conditions and the world’s lowest minimum wage, and after the strikes in December, striking workers face even harsher conditions as they are harassed, arrested and blacklisted from jobs (08 Jan 17).

Bangladesh textile millers go for water saving technology: Textile companies have started adopting water saving technologies as Bangladesh is one of the highest water consuming countries for washing and dyeing fabrics. Garment factories use more than 250 litres of water for washing and dyeing one kilogram of fabrics while the global best practice is 70 litres (04 Jan 17).

Cambodian garment workers strike after leader fired for founding union: More than 100 Sinosky Hejun Garment Co Ltd workers went on strike for four hours last week to request that the company allow their leader to come back to work after he was fired last month for creating a union (04 Jan 17).

Apparel factory closures in Cambodia debated: Questions have been raised about the health of Cambodia’s $6 million garment sector after local media reported that over 140 garment factories shut down operations last year. Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour, the source of the figure cited in local media, stood by the number this week, stating that the ministry documented 141 garment factory closures in 2016, nearly double the amount recorded in 2015 (10 Jan 17).

Indian government’s weavers’ helpline becomes operational: ‘Bunkar Mitra’, the Government of India’s helpline for handloom weavers, has become operational. The helpline provides a single point of contact to handloom weavers across the country for addressing queries and providing guidance. Weavers can call from anywhere in India, from any number, and their queries will be answered by the experts in the field (05 Jan 17).

Attack on Baldia factory in Pakistan was planned at MQM sector office ground, testifies new suspect: In a chilling confessional statement, an accomplice of Rahman Bhola, a key suspect in the Baldia factory fire case, has said that the plan to set ablaze the Ali Enterprises garments factory was made at the Baldia Town sector office ground of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Geo News reported last week (29 Dec 16).

Baldia factory fire victims’ families rally against compensation issue: Scores of people affected by the Baldia factory fire took to the streets on Thursday against a proposal to disburse financial compensation among them through workers’ social security and pension institutions, which they deem ‘corrupt’ (30 Dec 16).

Minimum wage of Nigerian textile workers to rise by 13 per cent: The minimum wage of the Nigerian textile and apparel workers will increase by 13 per cent to N32,000 (US$102) as per the 46th national collective agreement. The agreement has been signed by the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN) and the Nigeria Textile Garment and Tailoring Employers Association (NTGTEA) (29 Dec 16).

Los Angeles garment industry ‘deeply unsafe and unhealthy’ says report: The Los Angeles garment manufacturing industry – the nation’s largest cut-and-sew apparel base – is “plagued by workplace violations and marked by a lack of worker protections,” according to a new report released by the Garment Worker Center, the UCLA Labor Center and UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health (22 Dec 16). See report here.

(Image, William Hook, CCO)