Reflections on the OECD Forum 2023

Having returned to Amsterdam after another successful year of the OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector, we share Fair Wear’s key reflections and learnings from our time in Paris.

Nazma Akter, Founder and Executive Director of Awaj Foundation, kicked off the Forum with her powerful keynote speech, highlighting the still pervasive power imbalances across the garment and footwear sector. She explained that ‘to counter this, we need systemic change, and power should be equally distributed in all aspects.’ Akter’s words were a timely rallying call and reflect Fair Wear’s overall belief that power imbalances pose the greatest threat to achieving our vision of world where garment workers see their human rights realised.

During this first day, Hester Janssens, Fair Wear’s Stakeholder Engagement and Partnerships Manager, joined the panel for the plenary on ‘Assessing Responsible Business Conduct Due Diligence Implementation: Reflecting a risk-based approach’. As a shared supply chain approach has been part of Fair Wear’s makeup since our inception, we have been assessing brands’ progress in implementing risk-based due diligence for many years now. We were therefore able to offer unique insights to the panel discussion on how brands can collaborate together to inform meaningful and impactful risk-based due diligence.

For example, Janssens urged that ‘we cannot audit ourselves out of problems. Access to remedy is something that needs to be addressed in strong collaboration – between brands and their suppliers and workers, and also between brands themselves to gain greater leverage for remediation.’ Similar calls were shared by Arnua Kashyap from Human Rights Watch, who highlighted that ‘collaboration cannot happen if companies are not mapping and disclosing their factories and supply chains.’

The plenary was joined by Emily Norton from the OECD and Sarosh Kuruvilla from Cornell University, and was moderated by Hannah Koep-Andrieu from the OECD.

On the second day of the Forum in Paris, The Industry We Want (TIWW) co-hosted ‘Implementing impactful due diligence: a practical perspective from Vietnam’, a hybrid two-panel, two-country Forum session connecting Hanoi and Paris.

Crucially, each panellist agreed on the equal responsibility shared by all stakeholders involved in protecting human rights and the environment, as well as the need to foster equitable partnerships between them. Opportunities to collaborate for furthering impact were then discussed among them.

When discussing purchasing practices, panellist Matthijs Crietee from International Apparel Federation (IAF) shared that ‘we have to understand that purchasing practices sit at the heart of due diligence. We need to be cautious as the essence of due diligence is not about risk transfer, rather it is about risk sharing. It’s all about collaboration. Due diligence is not implemented through buying power but through collaboration.’ Luu Tien Chung from Vietnam Textile & Apparel Association (VITAS) reflected Crietee’s words, noting that ‘when enterprises fulfil all human rights due diligence standards, they will be able to address the power imbalances between factories and buyers.’

The panel brought together Van Binh Nguyen from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Pham Thi Thanh Tam from the Vietnam Textile and Garment Trade Unions, Anosha Wahidi from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Joy Roeterdink from Suitsupply, moderated in Paris by Fair Wear’s Executive Director, Alexander Kohnstamm, and Prof. Dr. Hai Nguyen Thi Thanh from Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics & Public Administration in Vietnam. Facilitating exchange between so many knowledgeable, diverse and creative stakeholders from across the sector is synonymous with TIWW’s mission: to enhance collaboration, build trust, and shape shared visions throughout the supply chain.

Finally, Alexander Kohnstamm shared his key takeaway of the session:

‘This session really highlighted the potential of due diligence for collectively reducing risks for human rights. At the same time, it reminded us that we must avoid due diligence becoming a new way of auditing, and instead, that it really becomes a way to address our power imbalances.’

Kohnstamm’s words reflect Akter’s keynote speech, as well as the driving ambition of the Forum – to share learnings on implementing due diligence in a collaborative and neutral environment.