Are the products safe? Are they really made sustainably? After thinking of style, fit and price, these are some of the questions that consumers have in mind when making a decision to purchase a garment or a pair of shoes. With responsible consumerism on the rise, consumers have heightened awareness of products safety and compliance, ethical sourcing, product sustainability and product content claims (for example: made of organic cotton or recycled materials). It is therefore important for brands and retailers to address these questions in order to gain consumers’ trust and confidence to build up their business reputation.

Challenges Of Achieving Supply Chain Transparency

The manufacture of textile and footwear products involves a complex multi-tier supply chain, ranging from chemical suppliers, material suppliers, wet processing factories, final assembly lines and a network of subcontractors.  For items such as footwear products in which leather is incorporated, a complex set of technology is used. This may include preservation and curing of the hide as well as tanning and conditioning of leather. Many of these textile, footwear and leather production technologies, methods of processes and individual business practices throughout the supplier base may not be transparent enough to provide brands a clear understanding of what may go on in their known supplier base. 

Clear transparency is needed in order to prevent the use of controversial or less than ethical practices when sourcing materials from animal origin, or unsafe or illegal labour or environmental practices at the manufacturing site or even using chemical formulations containing restricted substances. Brands may not have adequate information about upper tier suppliers or any unauthorised use of subcontractors.

In order for brands and retailers to ensure greater transparency along their supply chain and to fulfil their corporate and social responsibility (CSR), additional questions about product safety compliance, sustainable production and ethical sourcing need to be addressed.

Building Trust At All Stages Of The Supply Chain

Some brands and retailers are testing end products to meet basic regulatory requirements. This strategy can only reveal product safety compliance at the most downstream level (Tier 1 suppliers) which is often the final assembly lines. This approach, however, may not be successful in discovering hidden issues within other tiers of the supply chain that may affect product safety compliance and CSR issues.

It is important to manage the supply chain at an upstream level to ensure transparency all along the supply chain. This includes meeting a range of social or environmental codes of conduct and restricted substances requirements set by individual brands based on regulatory and common market requirements.

There are many ways to achieve greater transparency and sustainability. Some brands in the market are actively disclosing the material source of origin through a series of audits and document tracking systems. Others actively work with designers to opt for materials with lower environmental footprints. Most brands or retailers, however, have gone for some types of internationally recognised third party certification system to assist in managing CSR programmes within a defined scope and with a view of taking this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Certification Schemes Can Help Increase Trust In Brands

There are many types of certifications in the market, with varying scopes and depths. Some certifications focus on a certain product segments as specialised production technologies and expertise are involved. Despite the differences in scopes and depths, many of these certification schemes share the common features of factory assessment and product or raw material testing. The factory assessment is used to evaluate current business practices and identify the root cause of failures thus determining room of improvement within the defined scope of the factory assessment. Product and raw material testing serve as a last safeguard for consumer safety and product compliance.

By adopting an internationally recognized certification scheme, brands and retailers’ supply chains can be made more transparent and hopefully initiate improvement in business practices  and to incentivise continual improvement.

Certification schemes can also serve as a business opportunity to communicate to both the consumers and their suppliers on the brand’s commitment to enforce corporate social responsibility in the supply chain. Thus, delivering trust and confidence to the stakeholders and the consumers.

Find more information on SGS Services for the Textile Industry.

Karen E. Kyllo, Ph.D.
Deputy Vice President, Global Softlines
SGS North America Inc.
t: +1 973 461 7934

Philip Chung
Senior Technical Services Executive
SGS Global Softlines Development Office
t: +852 2204 8309