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We are pleased to announce that German fashion brand s.Oliver Bernd Freier GmbH & Co. KG is officially a member of Fair Wear!
The s.Oliver Group’s goal is to create value through sustainability and innovation. In fashion and along the entire value chain. We had a chance to speak with s.Oliver’s Head of Sustainability, Sabrina Müller, on their decision on becoming a Fair Wear member.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us more about your responsibilities as Head of Sustainability at s.Oliver Group?
SM: Being a family-owned fashion group, responsibility has always been an important value for the entire s.Oliver Group. When I joined as Head of Sustainability in 2021, right in the middle of the COVID pandemic, we all agreed that in such volatile times and with the overall increasing sustainability requirements, we needed to double down on these values even more and evolve as a group. Therefore, we’ve revised our Sustainability Strategy and built a great team around it, focusing on three essential topics: People, Future, and Planet.
In the Planet strategy, we deep dive into climate protection to reduce our GHG emissions, while in the Future strategy we are working on converting our product range to be more sustainable, focussing on more sustainable materials and – with a view to the future – on the circularity of products.
In the People strategy, we – in cooperation with Fair Wear – want to improve working conditions for the workers in our supply chain. We plan to go beyond the auditing of our suppliers and aim to create lasting improvements in working environments in our production countries – in close collaboration with workers, unions, and suppliers.
We’ve set ourselves a high bar, which we aim to reach by integrating sustainability into all processes and departments, with support from our management and all teams across the group.
What does it mean to you to become a Fair Wear member?
SM: Change doesn’t happen overnight and is best achieved through strong collaborations and partnerships. This is especially true for the complex international supply chains in the fashion industry.
When we revised our sustainability strategy and set the goal to improve working conditions in our supply chain, it became clear that we would need a strategic partner to support and guide us along the way. From there on, the decision to become a Fair Wear member was an obvious choice and we are happy to now be on board.
As a multi-stakeholder initiative, Fair Wear has the expertise and network that will help us improve working conditions in production countries, for example by setting up a social dialogue program and a grievance mechanism. Being a Fair Wear member further allows us to connect with other fashion brands that share the same vision. This way we can all learn from each other and even join forces to push the industry towards change.
How will the work you do with Fair Wear be implemented across the different brands in your portfolio?
SM: We are working with a centralised supplier base for all our brands, so the work we’ll do to improve working conditions with Fair Wear will involve all brands at the same time. Nevertheless, all our brands do have an individual character and topics that are at the heart of the brand’s identity. Wherever possible we want to integrate these identities in our activities and utilise them to reach our overall targets.
The s.Oliver Group has been involved in the Jaba Garmindo case since 2015, what has motivated you to take action now and how will a Fair Wear membership support you in doing so?
SM: The Jaba Garmindo case has taught us a lot about the fashion industry and about what it means to be a responsible company.
While an independent investigation has acquitted the s.Oliver Group of any legal wrongdoing with regards to the Jaba Garmindo case, for us as a family-owned fashion group responsibility is a core value. I strongly believe that the global economy, and thereby as a focal point also the fashion industry, is going through a transformation that requires this value to become more actionable.
This is why we’ve revised our long-term sustainability strategy to focus more on operationalisation and impact, and are working towards developing a solution for the former workers of the Jaba Garmindo factory. For this, we are currently in conversations with unions and former workers on how to move forward in this case and I hope we can encourage other brands that were previously involved to join us.
Looking at your overall sourcing and production processes, what are the biggest risks that you want to tackle with support from Fair Wear and what is your roadmap for improving the working conditions of garment workers?
SM: We’re currently integrating our updated risk management system in line with the international and national human rights due diligence requirements. This will enable us to dive deep into the respective situation in each of our production countries, help us to identify individual risks at the supplier level, and analyse how our actions influence these risks.
Together with Fair Wear, we want to build a social dialogue programme, for which we’re planning to launch pilot activities in the second half of this year and improve our purchasing practices. We’re also rolling out the Fair Wear Grievance Mechanism at all our suppliers – another big step.
Based on its extensive knowledge of the industry, Fair Wear will guide us along the way and track our progress on all of these activities annually. Their comprehensive brand performance check is a good indicator for us to evaluate how our actions bring us closer to our overarching goal – improving workers’ conditions in our supply chain.
We have a lot of items on our agenda, and I’m sure that with Fair Wear we’ve found the perfect partner to put them into action.
Fair Wear is excited to work with the s.Oliver Group towards improving the lives and working conditions of the people that make its clothes. The new member’s first Brand Performance Check will occur after one year of membership and will be published on its brand page.
 In 2015, the Jaba Garmindo garment factory in Indonesia supplied to various global brands, including s.Oliver, UNIQLO, and Jack Wolfskin closed down without paying its approximately 2,000 workers their legally owed severance, as well as several months’ wages. Two months before, the factory went bankrupt, after buyers allegedly pulled orders from the factory. The workers continue to demand what is owed to them under Indonesian law and, along with labour groups, call on the buyers to take responsibility.