by Colleen Vien, VFc/Timberland

The objective of the Social Labor Convergence project is something the footwear and apparel industry has long been asking itself for over a decade – why are we duplicating efforts, why are we subjecting our suppliers to audit fatigue, if we banned together wouldn’t we be able to dedicate more time and effort to go deeper in our supply chain and to invest in programs that truly drive positive impact for the wellbeing of the workers and the communities of our supply chain?

I’ve seen efforts like this fail previously, but I do believe we are at a time now when it can and will be successful – for several reasons: egos are being checked at the door, other industries have proven its possible, external auditing firms and social/labor standard holders are not threatened by the idea of convergence, there’s a genuine interest by all to see our respective efforts be more efficient and (more importantly) more effective.

There’s much work to be done to ensure the outcome delivers something that meets all stakeholders’ needs, something that can be depended upon but together, with all the stakeholders involved, I’m optimistic this time. This initial sense of renewed optimism is further fuelled now seeing what the Working Groups have been delivering, and the growing number of signatories across all stakeholder groups. An impressive cast of characters involved, an inclusive process to ensure all stakeholder voices are heard, and an innovative governance process to ensure data quality are the power behind the progress being made on this initiative.

Finally, as an industry, we can start to expect true impact as a result of doing things truly different at last. Audits play a role in ensuring the workers within our supply chain are protected, but for their wellbeing to truly be improved we need to align behind this common assessment tool so that our collective efforts can be more effectively utilized on driving improvements.