An Open Letter to Global Brands in the Apparel and Footwear Sectors

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

We are students at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. This semester we enrolled in a new class on labor practices in global supply chains in the apparel industry. While we learned a lot about the issues, what surprised us was the relatively limited progress in improvement in factory labor conditions in apparel supply chains, despite 20 years of efforts by brands.  And recent research suggests that that progress (in terms of compliance with codes of conduct) has plateaued.  Even today, labor conditions in first tier supplier factories of reputable brands, do not meet, on average, all the core labor standards set forth by the ILO and various corporate codes of conduct. And we have not considered conditions in Tier 2 suppliers and beyond.  For us millennials, this was a shocking revelation.  

Unlike some of our peers, we are not convinced however, that the limits of private regulation have been reached, and we feel that there is much more that can be done by all stakeholders involved, but especially the brands. Hence, this letter is addressed to you all, the global brands, as YOU are the engines that drive improvements in labor practices in their supply chains. Our letter is long, but hopefully both nuanced and relevant.

While we appreciate your efforts thus far, we feel that much remains to be done to make SUSTAINABLE improvements. Below is what we feel are the MINIMUM steps that you must take to make your efforts to improve labor practices in your supply chains MORE CREDIBLE to our generation.

Our letter is organized into five sections.  Please click on each section below.

  2. We think you can do better on TRANSPARENCY AND TRACEABILITY.
  3. We think you should focus more on COLLABORATION IN A COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT.
  4. We think it is imperative for you to have INTERNALLY CONSISTENT APPROACHES.
  5. We feel that your approach to labor compliance must be RECONCEPTUALIZED AND INTEGRATED INTO THE EMERGING HUMAN RIGHTS ARCHITECTURE.

In sum, as we move to a new era of increasing consumer impatience with the lack ofsystematic progress in improving human rights and labor conditions in supply chains, we politely request you to focus on the core principles outlined in this letter—namely, collaboration in a competitive environment, moving from a relationship based on compliance to one that is based on long term relationships with suppliers, increases intransparency, and articulating approaches that are internally consistent.

Reconceptualizing your code of conduct on labor practices to be consistent with human rights principles is a necessary step in improving labor conditions in layers of your supply chains.  Going forward, we will be analyzing the efforts of brands on the aforementioned dimensions and will report those analyses publicly.


Sylvia Francisco '17

Khushboo Jain, MILR '16

Timothy McGraw '16

Kristen Smith '16

Carrie Funderburk '17

Kelsey Jones '16

Anurag Meshram, MILR '16

Alexander Turecki '17

Darling Gutierrez '17

Gibran Khan, MILR '17

Charles Morris, MILR '16

Carly Villa '17

Maxwell Hanson '16

Daniel McArthur '17

Kathryn Quilici, MILR '16

Joshua Yeh '17