Free2Work profile on Apparel Search
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Free2Work provides consumers with information on how products relate to modern-day human rights issues.

Through the site you can learn how your favorite brands are working to address forced and child labor.  In addition, you can access in-depth information about industry issues through their industry pages, news feeds, and their blog posts.

Here is a brief example of an introduction to one of their apparel industry reports:

Two decades ago it was standard practice for an apparel company to publicly deny any responsibility to workers in its supply chain. After years of worker and consumer activism, the debate has shifted and a number of companies have now developed extensive corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. A handful of companies are using these systems to facilitate positive changes for workers. With Free2Work statistical data, we present an overview of apparel companies' current range of responses to arguably the most egregious ongoing abuse of workers: modern slavery.

Free2Work grades are an indication of the extent to which companies have traced their suppliers and established management systems throughout their supply chains. If used together, these systems can theoretically prevent child and forced labor. It is important to note however that, outside of a few metrics, Free2Work is only able to gather information on management systems and not on the working conditions they are designed to ameliorate; this is because the overwhelming majority of companies are not transparent with working condition information. Except in a few cases, companies have not made monitoring reports, corrective action plans, or line-by-line statistics on the implementation of code standards available to the public. Without this information, a direct analysis of the impact of these management systems on child labor, forced labor and many broader worker rights is not possible.

Free2Work does gather information on one concrete working condition that is also arguably the most accurate impact barometer: wages. Wages are of chief concern to workers, as evidenced by the fact that the payment of a living wage is demanded by virtually every major labor rights group.1 Interestingly, our data finds that while a handful of the CSR management systems we assess correlate with a known improvement in wages, most do not: only a small number of brands report guarantees of higher-than-minimum wages at the factory level (see pg 3). This leads us to question whether the internal purpose of many of these systems is merely public image management. Regardless of the motive, it is clear that while in some cases the resources spent on CSR systems are significantly benefitting workers, in the majority of cases the impact on wages and broader working conditions is uncertain.

This report provides detailed information on fifty apparel companies' CSR practices: it assesses each management system in four categories: Policies, Traceability & Transparency, Monitoring & Training, and Worker Rights. Each Free2Work indicator correlates with a piece of a system that should, if appropriately used, enable improvement in working conditions and the elimination of modern slavery. We hold that child and forced labor are far less likely in supply chains that are highly visible to companies and where workers have a voice to negotiate working conditions and speak out against grievances.

As the Clean Clothes Campaign has stressed, these components will likely only create positive impact if used in conjunction.2 For example, a company can have strong written policies against modern slavery and gather information about supplier working conditions through in-depth monitoring, but unless it uses these standards and information to correct grievances, we would not expect it to create impact. Free2Work category grades represent the health of pieces of a system rather than the system as a whole, and should be evaluated within this broader context: while many brands have adopted the right policies and thus the most common Policies grade we allot is an A, the most common Worker Rights grade is an F.

Alongside a statistical overview of Free2Work data, this report offers more detailed snapshots of what some of the better-scoring companies are doing in specific compliance areas. A few of these featured companies are truly ahead of the curve in their use of best-practices. Several, however, are not comprehensively upholding worker rights; we provide examples of model initiatives and in some cases we have found that companies supporting model initiatives in one place are far from following best practice in other places. Despite these inconsistencies, we want to encourage companies to support stronger initiatives, such as the Freedom of Association Protocol in Indonesia or the Fire and Building Safety Agreement in Bangladesh. These issue-specific, direct stakeholder-brand-supplier agreements represent a new path for enabling workers' voice: an essential step in ensuring against forced or bonded labor or other contract abuse.

We also want to encourage companies to begin to measure and report the impact of their CSR systems, particularly in terms of wage gains for workers. These programs are only useful where they are creating concrete change for workers.

Despite the current information gap, the Free2Work data we present is important because it is the most comprehensive picture of these systems to date. We can see from it that, unlike in decades past, most well-known apparel companies now admit responsibility to their supply chain workers, and many are putting resources into facilitating change-- even at the inputs and raw materials levels of their supply chains, where modern slavery is most rampant. We want to applaud the industry's step in this direction. Our hope is that the trend will continue, and that companies will use our ratings and analysis to improve, and to follow today's best-practice leaders into creating concrete improvements for workers tomorrow.

View the full example of their research by reading the 2012 Apparel Industry Trends Report by Free2Trade.

The global slave trade is complex, and product supply chains remain opaque, making it difficult for even the most informed consumers to know how their purchases are connected to labor abuses.  Many fashion brands now work with a wide range of initiatives such as monitoring and certification programs to attempt to assure consumers that their products do not violate worker rights.  The plethora of approaches is potentially confusing for busy consumers who seek an answer to the simple question, what is the story behind my products?

Free2Work is trying to make the issues easier for consumers to find an understand information relevant to this subject.

There is a tale behind each barcode.  Most products travel through various parts of the world and through many hands before they reach the final consumer.  The goal at Free2Work is to shed light on this process.  They aim to empower consumers with information about the likelihood that products are made with forced or child labor.   Free2Work conducts extensive research before assigning grades on a scale of A" to F" to each brand.  They look at company efforts in four main categories: policies, monitoring, transparency, and worker rights.

Free2Work is continually engaged in dialogue with clothing companies and companies from other industries about their supply chain practices.

Organizations Behind Free2Work:

Free2Work is a project created by Not For Sale and supported by the International Labor Rights Forum.

Not For Sale equips and mobilizes smart activists to deploy innovative solutions to slavery in their own backyards and across the globe. NFSC has developed an international network of people dedicated to ending slavery and forced labor.

International Labor Rights Forum, founded in 1985, promotes just and humane treatment for workers worldwide.  ILRF connects policy makers and activists to workers' struggles around the world, promoting better trade policy and legal protections against child and forced labor, discrimination of all kinds, and infringements on workers' right to organize and bargain collectively.

You can provide feedback by email to [email protected]

Learn more about apparel industry human rights issues on the Apparel Search guide.

You may also have interest in learning about the Fair Labor Association.

 

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