by Shelly Gottschamer of Outerknown, Mary Bean of Columbia Sportswear, and Samantha Kuchmak of Mountain Equipment Coop

The Social and Labor Convergence Project is by definition a collaborative effort—but collaboration is no easy feat, particularly in an industry with such disparate interests. What’s pertinent to one company may be irrelevant to another; still, the members of SLCP are unified in their concern for workers and their well-being. Reducing audit fatigue through the SLCP is a way to smooth out the differences in audit questionnaires, saving time and money so companies can get past the baseline of “compliance” and direct resources to more meaningful worker well-being projects. A central pillar of the SLCP is the Stakeholder Engagement and Communications Working Group led by Shelly Gottschamer of Outerknown, Mary Bean of Columbia Sportswear, and Samantha Kuchmak of Mountain Equipment Coop. They sat down to discuss the nature of collaboration within the SLCP, and their commitment to reducing audit fatigue and improving working conditions.

Mary Bean, Social Responsibility Manager at Columbia Sportswear on collaboration in the SLCP: The role of our Stakeholder Engagement Working Group is to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and that all stakeholders, whether they are signatories or not, have input in the process, so that when the final product is launched, it’s a credible tool that meets everyone’s needs. The more companies that use this Converged Assessment Framework the fewer audits there will be. The Industry can then redirect those resources to capacity building and training programs to improve facility conditions. At Columbia, we participate in a wonderful project, BSR’s HERproject: a train-the-trainer model where a handful of workers are trained to teach topics to other workers, with module options such as health and nutrition, family planning and finance. Apparel factories are about 80% women, and this program is all about empowerment of those female workers. For this particular project, we’re seeing return on investment in the form of reduced turn-over, because workers are willing to stay at the factory longer. We want to put our resources into incredible projects like the HERproject instead of re-auditing a factory where an audit has already taken place.

Samantha Kuchmak, Social Responsibility & Compliance Manager at MEC on the brand’s work with the SLCP: MEC committed as a signatory at the start of the Project – October 2016. Understanding the value of industry collaboration, Samantha joined as a co-chair of the stakeholder and communication working group to support the Project. As a cooperative across the Canadian retail landscape, MEC is often quite small in facility’s manufacturing the MEC-label: representing often times less than 5% of a facility’s total production. Having initiated several multi-brand shared audits throughout their supply chain, supporting the mission and vision of the SLCP was an obvious choice. The goal is to support in the creation and use of industry assessment tools. The SLCP is soft launching in October starting in China and Sri Lanka. Working with their strategic facility-partners, MEC will roll out the SLCP in China to start – working their way to adopt the SLCP questionnaire in lieu of the current audit scope. Samantha is optimistic that by agreeing to one set of unified questions, brand and facility collaboration will be streamlined; allowing resources to be redirected to directly impact supply chain employees.

Shelly Gottschamer, Head of Sustainability and Supply Chain at Outerknown on the multilateral approach of SLCP: Outerknown joined the project early on in 2016 and stepped up as co-chair a year later. We’re a growing brand, but eliminating unnecessary audits means we can refocus resources to do the most for workers. The SLCP is comprised of 6 caucuses: retailers, brands, manufacturers, agents, civil society (NGOs, etc.), and auditing firms. Each caucus elects members from their organization to form the steering community—these are thought leaders within their respective organizations, and there’s a palpable understanding of the broader social landscape in the steering committee. At the end of the day, the SLCP enables different governing parties come together to build a Converged Assessment Framework that’s sector wide—it’s not just one interested party pushing it—it’s all of us coming together to make create change in the industry.