December 5, 2008
Vancouver-based outdoor sportswear company Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) has become the first Canadian apparel retailer to disclose the supplier factories of its own-brand products. MEC cited its “commitment to being upfront about how and where [it sources] MEC-brand products” and its belief “that doing so will further workers' rights, and lead to better sourcing practices,” as reasons for its decision.
Transparency has become more important than maintaining any advantages the company may have over its competitors by keeping its sources secret, confirmed MEC. The Co-op went on to call on other Canadian retailers to follow suit.
This is a major advance in transparency for a retailer in Canada and one which MSN applauds and would hope to see replicated. Factory disclosure lists add substantial credibility to a company’s efforts to achieve labour standards compliance, since they open up company supply chains to scrutiny by local and international NGOs and trade unions and encourage cooperation on compliance issues among buyers in shared factories. It's no surprise that those apparel companies whose CSR programs tend to be rated highest by outside stakeholders are the same ones that have disclosed factory locations -- companies like Levi Strauss & Co, Nike Inc., Adidas Group and others.
As MEC's Harvey Chan writes in his blog on Ethical Sourcing, the company did not enter into this lightly. Like all apparel and footwear companies that have taken this important step, they were initially wary of the risk of competitors using factory disclosure to steal MEC designs, and of the risk of negative exposure if there are problems in a supply factory.
However, as other companies have found, fears of competitors stealing designs and/or suppliers have not been realized.
The benefits of factory disclosure, on the other hand, can be substantial. As Levi Strauss & Co. writes on their own website:
"We believe that making our factory list public will foster collaboration with other brands and lead to sector-wide improvement on supplier performance on codes of conduct….we are reaching out to other brands and encouraging them to share their monitoring results in common factories and work together to focus our collective resources on making improvements in factories rather than duplicating monitoring efforts….We believe that public awareness of our suppliers establishes a powerful accountability mechanism that will encourage them to maintain positive working conditions and continuously improve their performance…"
The Maquila Solidarity Network is pleased that MEC has joined the ranks of those retailers and brands that have publicly disclosed factory locations. Other companies should seriously consider the step taken by MEC and other retailers and brands, and move to disclose the factories that produce their own name-brand goods as part of a comprehensive and credible compliance program.
For further information on transparency measures and what a company can do to build confidence in its program, please see our Codes Memo #22, "The Next Generation of CSR Reporting", and our other web resources on transparency.
MEC's factory disclosure list is available on their website.
MEC's blog on Ethical Sourcing.
Levi Strauss' comments on factroy disclosure.