Web to Facilitate Ethical Sourcing Initiative

Sweatshops. Child labor. The 19th-century world of substandard working conditions still is with us, as the global economy frequently depends on products and material produced in less-than-optimal conditions, even in unethically managed conditions. In the last few decades, as more and more manufacturing jobs have “migrated” overseas from the industrialized nations, especially the United States and Western Europe, auditing factory practices has become a major supporting activity related to supply chains. At last week’s National Retail Federation convention in New York City, a new, non-profit organization that will share factory audit information to encourage workplace standards compliance was announced.

The new group is the Fair Factories Clearinghouse, which will maintain a global database of compliance audit information provided voluntarily by retailers. One of the major benefits of membership in the FFC is expected to be efficiency resulting from access to a shared database of audit reports on specific factory conditions. The database’s security has been audited and certified in compliance with standards of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. The FFC has the ability to track factory compliance rules specified by the U.S. Customs-Trade Partnership against Terrorism as well.

Founded by the NRF, the Retail Council of Canada, Reebok International Ltd., and human rights and business consultancy World Monitors Inc., the FFC also includes founding members Federated Merchandising Group, Hudson’s Bay Company, Mark’s Work Wearhouse Ltd., and the Wet Seal. Reebok International has donated software to construct and operate the FFC’s Web-based database. Support for the initiative comes from retail associations, participating companies, and grants, including grants from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Compliance standards are the business of participants, who can adhere to their own standards or those promulgated by such organizations as the Fair Labor Association (FLA), Social Accountability 8000 (SA 8000), Toy Industry Association, or the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP). Retailers and brands interested participating in the FFC can contact Scott Krugman at the National Retail Federation, (202) 783-7971; or e-mail krugmans@nrf.com.