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Supply chain safety debate calls for more collaboration

A debate on fashion supply chain ethics has urged collaboration between the industry and government as key to improving the safety of supply chains.

The debate at Westminster Hall in London this week was run by MPs, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and Fashion Revolution, which lobbies for manufacturing safety improvements across the fashion industry following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in April last year.

Since then, a number of events and initiatives have been launched aimed at improving supply chains for UK companies using overseas labour. The UK’s draft Modern Slavery Bill is due to be announced in the Queen’s Speech on June 3. If passed, the legislation will require UK firms to publically report on measures taken to eradicate slavery practices from their supply chain.

Labour MP Michael Connarty told Drapers that UK high street retailers including Primark, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer are proving receptive to the new bill. He said the tenets of The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which requires US companies to prominently disclose their methods to prevent supply chain abuses, could be adopted in the UK under the new legislation.

Speaking to Drapers, IOSH president Tim Briggs said the UK still has a long way to go to improve its standards. “We shouldn’t be pointing fingers,” he said. Some of the supply chain “is hidden” in both the UK and in overseas factories, he added.

Briggs and other attendees stressed that revenues and reputation are protected by a transparent and safe supply chain. “Safe suppliers are reliable ones,” said Briggs. “If there was another Rana Plaza and certain companies got entangled with that it would be disastrous for business.”

Designer Katharine Hamnett told Drapers the “endemic” problem of workers’ rights abuses is a problem at the top of the chain, rather than with consumers. “Consumers care,” she said, adding that legislation will be key to enforcing more transparent methods of sourcing by major UK retailers.  

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