In times of crisis, relationships are tested – and unfortunately, many of the partnerships that brands and retailers have with their suppliers failed during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Panelists at the R / Evolution Sourcing Journal Summit did not hold back from voicing their frustration with the “cancellation culture” that occurs when brands realize they will not receive a return on their investment on orders they placed.
To Mostafiz Uddin, Denim Expert Ltd.’s garment factory managing director, client cancellation reveals how they truly view their “partnership.”
“During this pandemic, we realized that partnerships are a marketing tool for brands and retailers,” he said. “And we talk a lot about partnerships, but I don’t see a single example of a true partnership.”
Earlier this year, the Uddin factory experienced a number of cancellations of finished and unfinished goods – both of which required raw materials that the factory bought itself.
“When the pandemic started, they canceled all their orders by just sending letters – that’s all,” he said. “Millions and millions of dollars, raw materials, finished goods, unfinished goods – it’s all fair [canceled] in simple email. Obviously, our relationship is completely destroyed, trust is broken, and it will take a lot of time to rebuild it. “
While this action addresses ethical questions, it also exposes structural problems. According to Dan Rees, director of Better Work, an organization dedicated to improving working conditions across the garment industry, the pandemic illuminates the instability of the fashion supply chain.
“The speed with which this impact is being felt really shows the fragility of the business in the supply chain and the work within it,” he said. “And it also asks really awkward questions about how supply chains are organized. I think we must realize that partnerships are not well suited to dealing with extreme and unprecedented circumstances – they are not strong enough. “
In contrast, Rees echoes what many experts have mentioned when discussing what is needed for industrial progress: government intervention.
“We must urge and support the government in creating a minimum wage structure to create industrial relations and create the things that people need to realize their rights, and support compliance in factories,” he said. “We need to highlight the responsibility of governments and employees to do their job and make sure business relationships are possible and don’t spoil them. And we haven’t gotten it right yet. “
As consumers become more aware of the social and environmental impact of their clothing, they are starting to demand that brands show more responsibility – and prove it. According to panelist Brittany Sierra, founder of The Sustainable Fashion Forum, brands across the industry have made a lot of promises, but haven’t taken enough action.
“Brands are making big claims that they can hide behind,” he said. “I think it makes the Bill of Rights international [for garment workers] is something that is needed. But I think we also need to make sure that it actually takes effect. “
While a global pandemic shouldn’t be necessary to uncover all the deep-rooted problems in the fashion supply chain, it is often the result, Sierra said.
“Unfortunately, it seems that many times, that is what is needed for change to occur,” he said.
Rees agrees, noting that throughout history, industry-wide shifts have tended to “come from outside and not from within.” And even though the industry is currently undergoing positive changes, it is still prone to taking a step back.
“We have to be aware of the possibility that working conditions will deteriorate in an environment of very high unemployment and difficult economic circumstances,” he said. “So I think this is a moment where businesses need to work together and really ask themselves what their customers’ expectations are, and ask themselves what investors and others expect of the true human rights in the supply chain.”
All sessions from this year’s Sourcing Journal Summit, R / Evolution, are available on request for the first time. Follow this link for more information.
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