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Changeup: Suppliers to Publicly Rate Brands’ Purchasing Practices to Improve Compliance


Suppliers are stepping up to the plate in this game of compliance, and they’re about to start rating brands and retailers on their purchasing practices. Publicly.

It takes two to comply and a new initiative called Better Buying is out to demonstrate that buyers’ purchasing practices often cause barriers to code of conduct compliance—suppliers aren’t the only ones to blame.

At a workshop in Geneva last week, Better Buying introduced the initiative, which collects suppliers’ anonymous ratings of brands’ and retailers’ purchasing practices, combines and scores them to publicly identify those with the best buying habits.

“The purchasing practices of brands and retailers have been discussed for over a decade, yet the challenges for suppliers in accommodating demands for low prices and quick production continue,” explained Marsha Dickson, an Irma Ayers professor of human services at the University of Delaware and co-leader of Better Buying. “By providing a way for suppliers to safely voice a wide range of concerns and providing the information publicly, we hope to create a race to the top among brands and retailers as they consider ways to transform their business practices in support of human rights in their supply chains.”

The apparel industry’s race to the bottom could only have gotten so far before having to turn around, and with transparency on the rise, compliance top of mind and a consumer who’s paying attention, brands can’t afford to put the same pressures on suppliers for low, lower, lowest cost and faster production times and expect conditions to be the utmost of compliance.

It’s not a buyers market anymore, and suppliers will be increasingly empowered to just say no to brands that bring little more than misery to the manufacturing process.

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Better Buying began in August last year with background research on present purchasing practices and conceiving ways to create a credible ratings system. Members of the initiative had in-person consultations with manufacturers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong and Vietnam to determine measures of purchasing practices that are most vital for business success and workplace conditions.

“Better Buying will provide more detailed information for brands and retailers on a broader set of purchasing practice issues than has commonly been available in the past,” said Doug Cahn, principal of factory workplace solutions provider The Cahn Group and Better Buying co-leader. “Better Buying is designed to showcase the buyers with better practices and help companies share and learn about ways to improve. We expect Better Buying to result in better business practices and better protections for workers.”

Suppliers will be asked to rate brands on things like whether adequate time has been allowed for production, the extent that actual orders vary from capacity booked and whether contractually agreed payment and terms have been met.

“Ratings systems are becoming increasingly important to socially responsible investment firms and mainstream asset managers,” said Bennett Freeman, former Senior Vice President, Sustainability Research and Policy, Calvert Investments (2006-15) and Chair, Advisory Board, Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN). “Better Buying gets down to the level of core operational functions and has the potential to make a significant impact.”

The company is still in the feasibility phase of the project, but Better Buying is expected to become fully operational in 2017.