retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a terrific story about H&M, which is one of the world's biggest fashion retailers, and how it decided to invest in transparency about the source of its products.

"This spring," the story says, "after almost three years of preparation and coordination by 40 team members from Hong Kong to Stockholm, and at a time when scrutiny of the global fashion industry and its shadowy supply chain is greater than ever, H&M introduced an effort to do exactly that — and to make it public for shoppers.

"Now, the company says, it can be held accountable for the origins of its products. If consumers care to look." Either in-store or online, "H&M shoppers can now find out not only the country where clothing was manufactured, but also details on materials and recycling, the name of the supplier or authorized subcontractor where a garment was made; the factory address; and the number of workers employed there."

While there are some limits to how much information is available, the Times writes, "it is nevertheless the first effort of its kind by a retailer of this scale."

The Times notes that "the new 'transparency layer' project has been cautiously applauded by some human rights and fashion advocacy groups and union leaders. But many have also said that H&M’s efforts do not go far enough, questioning whether improvements like this are worthwhile if they merely prolong the existence of a system where profits and shareholder interests are continually placed ahead of employees, suppliers and the environment.

"Currently, customers do not have access to information on workers’ wages at individual factories, or local minimum fair living wage commitments and calculation methodology. Nor does the transparency layer offer a breakdown of the pricing structure that could specify how labor costs are calculated."
KC's View:
I'm sure there are ways in which H&M could do better, but let's give the company a lot of credit for moving in the right direction, toward a transparency and trackability ethic that I think will become only more important in coming years. Consumers, I believe, will demand the availability of this kind of information; even if they don't always access it, they will give greater credibility to the businesses that have it accessible.

If companies don't do it themselves, others will do it for them. I refer you back to the piece I did earlier this year about Trestle, a company set up precisely for the purpose of ranking how brands behave on critical issues, and then making that data available to interested shoppers. (You can read it here.)

I'd rather be ahead of this wave than behind it.