In a move to become more transparent, VF Corp., one of the largest global clothing manufacturers, will disclose the names and locations of the 91 factories it uses in Bangladesh. The list is a break from the company’s policy to keep its factories private.
“In the past if we had factories we wanted to work with from a standpoint of developing a relationship, we didn’t want our competition to know about it. That’s probably a thought of the past. We want to develop more confidence,” Tom Nelson, VF vice president of global procurement, told The Toronto Star.
The company will not disclose which brands are affiliated with each Bangladesh factory.
The $11 billion apparel and footwear powerhouse, whose 30-plus brand roster includes The North Face, Timberland, Wrangler and Vans, has come under pressure by activists and watchdog groups to help improve worker conditions following the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which killed 1,129 workers last April.
Leading the charge is the student activist group United Students Against Sweatshops. The group has demanded VF, which produces branded apparel for approximately 1,100 universities, to align with the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The agreement on safety and worker conditions has been signed by 156 global brands and retailers and requires companies to pay up to $500,000 annually to administer inspections.
Since VF refused the student group’s demand to join the accord, it has organized sit-ins at schools and at least 15 universities have ended, or promised to end, their contract with VF for Jansport and Imagewear products. VF spokesman Craig Hodges reported to The Toronto Star that the company is aware of only eight universities that have ended their business relationship.
Nelson rejected the group’s criticism, noting that VF finished inspections in all of its Bangladesh factories, and in one particular factory, Optimum Fashion, spent $160,000 on safety improvements. “We didn’t want to wait around to figure out how to get a loan for them. We were more worried about the factory and how we make the workers safe,” he told The Toronto Star.
However, The Workers Rights Consortium, a labor rights organization that has inspected Optimum twice, disagrees. In March, the organization revealed the factory still had a number of safety problems including a lack of fire doors, emergency lighting and unprotected door openings.