It’s already apparent that brands’ bad behavior is to blame for much of the pressure on apparel manufacturers, but dictating requirements hasn’t quite helped compliance as intended either.
Compliance concerns have been top of mind in recent years after a series of apparel industry tragedies shed light on a sector that had been largely unregulated but desperately in need of some thorough check-ups.
What happened as a result was that brands started enforcing stringent rules and requirements for factories to abide by if they wanted to do business with them—which sounds all well and good, except that many brands failed to factor in realistic capabilities of these developing nations.
As Michael Rozario, CEO of Social Compliance Services (SCS) based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, explained, “Buyers are making compliance management systems based on U.S. or EU standards, and it is difficult for those standards to work here.”
The third-party provider started operations in 2006, functioning as a licensed compliance inspector for brands like Kustomz Ink Klothing (K.I.K.). Brands can use SCS to do assessments of the factories they use and ensure that those factories’ standards meet the requirements of retailers they make for. If conditions aren’t compliant, SCS works with the factory on any remediations or process improvements that might be necessary to get it there.
The problem for most factories, however, has been dealing with a new host of directives for how to run their facilities that they weren’t facing before or haven’t been adequately trained or equipped to manage.
“Rules and regulations in the West is very strong,” Rozario said, adding that many factories simply can’t afford to accommodate. While some retailers cover the costs of preparing a factory to be socially and environmentally compliant and others only make factories pay if they fail audits, some expect the factory to dish out for any needed upgrades or improvements.
So the industry comes to a compliance crossroads of sorts—brands and retailers need their products manufactured in favorable and safe conditions and factories have to improve the safety of their operations in order to meet that demand, whether they’re able to or not.
One way forward, according to Rozario, is for brands to consider themselves partners rather than dictators sending down demands to those who work for them.
“Brands need to have an approach of partnering,” he explained. “While they are developing their systems, they should consider the knowledge of the local people as well.”
Too often, brands run their businesses from the secure ivory tower of home, not sending buyers into the countries they source from to really understand how things are done and why things can’t just happen as they may expect them to.
It’s hard to grasp, for example, why goods get delayed from Bangladesh, not reaching a dye house that’s 10 miles away within a matter of hours, until you spend three hours in traffic to go three miles because something backed up the traffic on the sole road connecting the factory to the dye house.
“If you ask me to talk to you in a U.S. accent, I cannot do that,” Rozario said. “You have to give me some time, you have to help me learn the technical aspects of that accent and then I can develop it.”
It’s the same thing with compliance requirements. Brands may want what they want, but if the factory doesn’t understand those requirements, the reasoning behind them, or how to achieve those shifts, they’ll be hard pressed to make the changes—far less fund them.
Brands should encourage factory managers to meet with their in-house compliance teams so the two sides can understand each other rather than sending their compliance team to host workshops and seminars in the factory where they are often speaking at the workers in a language that isn’t theirs and expecting them to ace all of their compliance audits off the bat.
“They [buyers] send their team to five-star hotels, they give a training, then say they are done and leave,” Rozario said. “The retailer needs to have more responsibility for understanding and changing those views and make the factory upgrade themselves as per their standard.”