Seminar Taking Place at GSE Melbourne – Upholding Human Rights in the Fashion Industry: Adapting to Mandatory Due Diligence

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In the ever-evolving landscape of human rights due diligence, the fashion industry finds itself at a critical juncture, facing the need to transition from voluntary guidance (soft laws) to mandatory due diligence (hard laws).

This shift brings with it a host of challenges and opportunities for businesses, brands, and suppliers – with many searching for answers on how to meet the heightened expectations of key stakeholders. To provide insight into the path ahead, the Melbourne Global Sourcing Expo, Australia’s premier international sourcing event, interviewed Bonnic Chung, Strategic Advisor at Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), ahead of her much-anticipated Global Sourcing Seminar presentation.

Bonnic’s Seminar: ‘From Voluntary to Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence: Adapting to an Evolving Landscape’ will take place on the final day of the Global Sourcing Expo, which runs from 21-23 November 2023 at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. Over the course of an hour, she will outline the practical steps buyers can take to ensure human rights are protected in the global workplace.

“Brands have a key role to play in driving this transformation and can use technology tools such as data management software to enforce human rights standards within the supply chain,” she explains. “Above all, close collaboration between brands and suppliers is essential for maintaining a consistent and responsible approach to human rights due diligence.”

Key Differences Between Voluntary vs Mandatory Approaches to Human Rights

Traditionally, businesses were not legally obligated to conduct human rights due diligence, and the extent of their efforts varied widely. “The introduction of the UN Guiding Principles (UNGP), albeit a voluntary measure, served as a helpful framework and associated guidelines for businesses to follow that assisted with developing a more structured approach to human rights due diligence,” explains Bonnic.

In contrast, the shift to mandatory due diligence has been driven by a wave of regulations, including the Supply Chain Transparency Act, and the UK and Australian Modern Slavery Act. These laws require companies to disclose their efforts to identify and eliminate human trafficking and modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. “Stricter legislation on supply chain practices is spreading around the globe, primarily spearheaded by European countries,” says Bonnic. “Australian brands who export to Europe should take particular note of the EU Supply Chain Act, which is expected to be implemented by early 2026.”

Challenges For Buyers and Suppliers

The rapidly changing regulatory landscape presents challenges for fashion brands/buyers and suppliers as they strive to maintain their operations and competitiveness. At the buyer’s level, companies are now expected to devote significant time and expense to monitor human rights compliance along the supply chain.

“Ensuring the comprehensive disclosure of practices by all suppliers, particularly those in lower tiers, can be hindered by the complexities of tracing material and labour origins,” Bonnic shares. “Disruptions may arise if a supplier is found to be involved in human rights abuses, as searching for a replacement will incur additional delays and costs.”

As for suppliers, operating within the complex global supply chain leads to difficulties in ensuring compliance across multiple tiers of subcontractors. Continuous risk assessment and monitoring are essential but demanding tasks, with suppliers facing additional operating costs resulting from the new compliance requirements imposed by buyers.

“The associated various audits and assessments will further burden suppliers, affecting their competitiveness, especially if profit margins are slim,” she adds.

The Role of Stakeholders in Driving Change

The shift from voluntary to mandatory human rights due diligence is not a solitary endeavour, with multiple key stakeholders driving the transformation. Governments play a crucial role here, enacting the laws and regulations that require brands to conduct and report on human rights due diligence, enforcing compliance through legal measures, penalties, and audits.

“Equally as important are the NGOs leading advocacy efforts raising awareness of human rights abuses and pressuring companies to address these issues,” shares Bonnics. “Their efforts are augmented by rising consumer demand for transparency and ethical practices from brands, at the risk of reputational damage for failing to do so.”

Finally, company shareholders recognise the financial risks of human rights abuses and are increasingly demanding improved due diligence measures to protect the brand’s long-term financial stability.

Collaboration for a Responsible Approach

“Ethical sourcing that prioritises human rights is a two-way street,” says Bonnic. “The key is partnership, and buyers and their suppliers have to work together to understand the challenges the other side faces and how best to overcome these.”

She shares the following best practices for ensuring a consistent and responsible approach to human rights due diligence:

1) Maintain a comprehensive understanding of the supply chain to track the origin and conditions of raw materials, components, and finished products.
2) Facilitate open dialogues, forums, and workshops for suppliers to share experiences and challenges, and explore solutions together.
3) Offer training and capacity-building programs to suppliers on social compliance and human rights due diligence, in partnership with industry experts and NGOs.
4) Collaboratively develop and use supply chain mapping and transparency tools that help identify risks and ensure a responsible approach.
5) Opt for existing, independent and credible programs to reduce audit fatigue and drive effective social compliance practices.

“As the fashion industry undergoes a profound transformation towards mandatory human rights due diligence, the importance of collaboration cannot be overstated,” concludes Bonnic. “Adapting to these changes is not just a matter of compliance; it’s an ethical imperative that ensures the protection and respect of human rights within the industry.”

The ‘From Voluntary to Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence’ Seminar takes place on 23 November from 2:30-3:30pm at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre.

Bhargav Pathak
Bhargav Pathakhttps://textilesresources.com
With a passion for the textile, apparel, and fashion industry, I embarked on a journey fueled by education from NIFT Gandhinagar and affiliation with NDBI at NID Ahmedabad. Since 2006, I've contributed to various corporate ventures, specializing in B2B, B2C, SaaS, and AI products within the textile domain. In July 2023, I launched TextilesResources.com, a knowledge hub offering the latest news, articles, and soon-to-come features like interviews and a trade fair calendar. Grateful for the growing community, we've recently introduced a Business Directory for enhanced visibility. Join us on LinkedIn and stay connected with the ever-evolving textile landscape!

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