Poor labour conditions can only be solved through multi-faceted solutions. The FWF approach brings together the key components needed for sustainable change. It means companies work step-by-step to improve conditions in their supply chains. It also means cooperation among a slew of stakeholders, and accountability among all of us. When fully executed, the FWF approach means results.
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There is no single solution for workplace injustice. There are many, and at FWF, we find that solutions work best when combined.
FWF restricts its focus to those phases of production where sewing is the main manufacturing process. These are among the most labour-intensive phases of the production process. It is also the stage of production where many labour problems are found, and where effective remedies can positively impact the lives of millions of workers.
FWF’s focus means that its staff has advanced and specialised knowledge of industry practice and trends. Focus also enables FWF to concentrate on building strong working relationships with those local and international stakeholders who, themselves, specialise in garments and textiles – a keystone for sustainable change in the industry.
FWF joins together business associations, trade unions, and NGOs as equal partners at every level of FWF activity – from decision-making at the Board level to workplace verification and code implementation. Each stakeholder group has an important role to play in improving working conditions, and the impact is that much greater when they all work together.
One of FWF’s greatest strengths is its approach to local stakeholder partnerships. FWF has invested significant time and resources in relationship-building with local partners in production countries. This is because the effectiveness and value of FWF’s system ultimately relies on local stakeholders’ capacity to effect change locally.
FWF involves local stakeholders in every aspect of its work – from auditing to remediation and complaints handling to development of FWF’s overarching country strategy.
‘Supply chain responsibility’ requires companies to make sourcing decisions that ensure good working conditions wherever their goods are made. It also requires companies to have management systems in place to consistently monitor conditions and support improvements. That’s a lot to tackle at once, especially for companies just starting out in CSR.
FWF’s process approach meets companies where they are. Some companies working with FWF have more than a decade of experience in workplace compliance; some join just as they are entering the CSR field. Whether a CSR leader or newcomer, each company uses FWF guidance to identify areas where the changes they make can have the greatest impact. Subsequent steps build from there. This step-by-step process leads to real and lasting improvements in workplaces throughout supply chains.
FWF’s system can be adapted to a variety of companies thanks to its process approach. Despite their diversity, FWF members have a common attribute: a commitment to work continuously and strategically for improvements in their supply chains.
To read more about FWF's process approach, please see our policy.
FWF's Process Approach vs Product Certification
When a product is labelled as 100% fair, it implies that every stage of production of a particular product has been overseen and verified as “ILO proof”. But this guarantee is nearly impossible to provide for the average t-shirt or blanket, for instance. The truth is that most garments and sewn products are not (yet) made in fully compliant conditions. For this reason, FWF does not claim that its members’ products are produced in full compliance with labour standards. FWF does, however, verify that members are working hard, step-by-step, in this direction.
Multi-level verification (see verification)
While company commitments to ethical practices are important, such claims usually only gain credibility when verified by a third party. This is where FWF comes in. FWF’s multi-stakeholder make-up means that it is independent and credible. In order to gain real insight into company performance, FWF’s verification system exists at three levels: FWF verifies at factory level and implements a complaints procedure in all countries where it is active to serve as a safety net. Finally, FWF also verifies at the company level to check whether companies implement the FWF Code of Labour Practices in their management systems effectively.
Accountability should lie at the heart of any initiative seeking to improve conditions in supply chains, and transparency is an important component of accountability.
For full accountability in supply chains, transparency is necessary at three key levels: the workplace, the company, and the organisation.
Balancing Business Confidentiality and Transparency
Transparency is essential for accountability and credibility. Yet it is also a challenge for garment and textile companies, who consider their competitive advantage to lie partially in their unique supply chain decisions – for example, where they are placing orders, prices paid, forecasting, etc. Indeed, transparency often can be among the most difficult FWF requirements for member companies.
But some pioneering companies are beginning to break this mould. CSR leaders now commonly report their factory lists, audit outcomes, and other data. There is still a lot to do in this regard, however. FWF continues to work with member companies to balance transparency and business confidentiality, while enhancing accountability in supply chains.
“No single entity can do it alone. Not a lone factory. Not a lone brand. Not a single trade union or business association. Not even a single multi-stakeholder initiative. Conditions in global sewing facilities can only change when these parties work together.” – Gerrit Ybema, FWF Chair between 2003 - 2010
FWF’s multi-stakeholder structure and approach was brought to life by a strong belief in the power of cooperation. Yet FWF is well aware that its multi-stakeholder efforts, alone, cannot bring about the kind of transformation needed to make lasting improvements in this global industry. It is only through cooperation – at all levels of the industry – that industry-wide improvements can be realised.
Cooperation between factories and companies
More than a decade of monitoring has proven that approaching factory auditing as policing leads to cat-and-mouse games with limited improvements for workers. In FWF’s experience, real improvements usually take place in a context of trust and collaboration between a company and factory, most often where companies are committed to a long-term relationship with the factory.
Cooperation with other multi-stakeholder initiatives
The scale of the challenges we face are huge, and resources are finite. So it is necessary to reduce duplication, while creating efficiencies among organisations that share a common goal. It is for this reason that FWF plays an active role in convening the Jo-In Platform, which assembles the heads of leading Code initiatives internationally. Through the Jo-In Platform, we seek to harmonise workplace Codes globally and to collaborate for improved implementation on challenging issues like living wages and hours of work.
Cooperation with trade unions
FWF works to ensure that its efforts in no way undermine or replace the role of trade unions in any country. To the contrary: its work ultimately focuses on supporting healthy industrial relations systems. Therefore FWF alters its approach in countries where there are functioning industrial relations systems in the garment and textile industry. FWF looks to trade unions in these countries as the main workplace monitors and appropriate handler of workers’ complaints. This ensures that the relationship is one of cooperation – working to ensure that healthy industrial relations systems remain that way.
Cooperation with business associations
Business associations play a key role in healthy industrial relations systems. FWF is committed to strengthening its cooperation with a number of business associations in the countries where FWF is active.