Successful Program in Colombo on the Social&Labor Convergence Project

A delegation of the Social&Labor Convergence Project came together in Colombo, Sri Lanka September 26th through 30th. The week kicked off with a seminar co-organized with the Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka (JAAF) in which manufacturers from Sri Lanka and other Asian countries had open discussions on the opportunities and challenges of this project. Following the seminar, signatories of the project had working sessions to refine the prototype of the tool and went on factory visits. Overall, it was a very successful, productive week.  

About the Social&Labor Convergence Project
The Social&Labor Convergence Project seeks to develop a simple, unified and effective industry-wide assessment framework. This will result in a standard-agnostic tool and verification methodology to collect relevant and essential data, with the ultimate intent to replace current proprietary tools. The long-term goal of this project is to create measurable and sustained improvements to working conditions and workers’ lives. 85 major stakeholders are signatory to this project, including H&M, Nike, Kering Group, The Gap, Arvind, Hirdaramani, MAS, Avery Dennison, WRAP and Solidaridad.

If there is something that we have learnt, we must all together take responsibility and play a part in creating a sustainable model for the future.

— Nikhil Hirdaramani

JAAF Co-organized Manufacturers’ Summit
This project uses a multi-stakeholder approach. All involved parties are committed to act and collaborate in an inclusive manner. We continuously and actively engage with new potential partners, collaborators and stakeholders, with the aim to include them in our work. In this light, the opening seminar on the 29th September was co-organized with JAAF to specifically target manufacturers. Around 100 participants from Sri Lanka and other Asian countries leaned about the project and engaged in lively discussions on the short and long term benefits of being a part of this -project and process. Mr. Nikhil Hirdaramani, director at the Hirdaramani Group and Project Steering Committee member, opened the summit with an inaugural speech.

Nikhil Hirdaramani: “At my own company, our sustainability strategy is linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. If there is something that we have learnt, we must all together take responsibility and play a part in creating a sustainable model for the future. So this is one of the key reasons why we wanted to be part of this project and also one of the key differences in previous attempts to obtain the same objective. It is true to say that in the past manufacturers have felt that they have been forced to do what they are told. Here manufacturers are encouraged to sign, and speak up. In fact, without the support of all stakeholders this project will fail.

Manufacturers shared their view on this project during a panel discussion, featuring Arvind from India, DBL from Bangladesh, MAS from Sri Lanka and Pouchen from Taiwan, moderated by the Chair of the project’s steering committee Mr. Pierre Hupperts. The panel discussion was followed by an open debate in which the burden of the current duplications of audits was made very explicit; an example was given of one facility going through over 30 similar audits each year, requiring 4 FTe staff to manage that. Manufacturers reconfirmed the need for this project, and stressed their concern of improving social and labor performance while  brands are simultaneously demanding reduced product pricing. Throughout the week, manufacturers were calling for inclusion and equal partnership in the process of convergence.

The summit was closed by Mr. Tulli Cooray from JAAF, who emphasized the opportunities of creating one universal tool:  reducing the number of audits taking place in factories as well as allowing for benchmarking outcomes. Especially the latter was highlighted as a way for the Sri Lanka textile industry to demonstrate its leading role in Asia.

The key note was presented by Ms. Holly McHugh from the Kering Group, who highlighted the brand perspective and Kering’s commitments to this project.

Progress in tool development, Colombo discussions providing feedback on prototype
The project has a 2 year time frame. Since the strategy was approved in July 2016, the first discussions on the tool have commenced. During the workshops on September 27th – 30th, the prototype version 0.2 of the tool was discussed in detail. Around 30 project signatories from manufacturers, brands & retailers, civil society and audit firms collectively worked on tool development. Perspectives of the different stakeholders were shared and discussed. Strategic topics were discussed in break-out groups, for instance the structure, the modular/step-wise approach, management systems and innovation. The manufacturer’s summit as well as the workshops and factory visits to Hirdaramani and MAS provided useful insights that will be integrated in the version 0.3 of the prototype, which will go for another consultation round and piloting later this year.

It was an inspiring and successful week. We had an open dialogue on all matters related to the project and specifically the tool.

— Pierre Hupperts

Successful week: inspiration, open dialogue and making progress
Pierre Hupperts, independent Chair of the Social&Labor Convergence Project expressed: “It was an inspiring and successful week. We had an open dialogue on all matters related to the project and specifically the tool. The atmosphere was positive and a lot of hard and practical work was done on the tool development and its verification. Progress is being made and I could see best in class examples of open dialogue and equal partnership.”

The Social&Labor Convergence Project would like to continue its success formula to organize a manufacturer’s summit in a producing country in order to engage closely with apparel suppliers.

We thank JAAF and the Hirdaramani Group for co-hosting us in Colombo, Sri Lanka.