EILEEN FISHER on Preventing Human Trafficking with SB657 and SA8000®

Interview with EILEEN FISHER's Luna Lee: commitment with SA8000 enables compliance with California Transparency in Supply Chain Act

February 2012

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EILEEN FISHER's Human Rights Associate Luna Lee (second from right) with home workers (left) in West Bengal, September 2011

On September 30, 2010, the State of California signed into law the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act (SB657) requiring all companies, retailers and manufacturers with annual sales of $100 million or more that do business in California to disclose their efforts to eliminate human trafficking and slavery from their supply chains.

 SAI Corporate Program member EILEEN FISHER is one of the many companies that must comply with the Act.  Among the California requirements are actions to ensure disclosure of "to what extent if any" a company engages in the five following activities: verification; auditing; certification; internal accountability; and training. SAI Communications Manager Joleen Ong spoke with EILEEN FISHER's Human Rights Associate Luna Lee, to learn more about what actions it has taken to comply with the new Act. 

According to the ILO, at least 12.3 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide, with an estimated 80% occurring in the private sector economy. Even for companies that do not employ forced labor directly, common practices such as subcontracting and supplier business practices can present a risk.

The Act, which came into effect on January 1, 2012, signifies a movement towards a more transparent supply chain. Similar efforts are in progress nationally. The provisions enhance the value of  SA8000: companies that are committed, or certified, to the SA8000 standard will find it supports compliance, as it is one of the few workplace certification standards that include a specific ban on human trafficking.

How has this Act impacted EILEEN FISHER's business practices? What are some challenges you are facing?

We did not actually make drastic changes to our business practices because of this Act. We were already well prepared by our participation in the SAI Corporate Program. However, it certainly made us more conscious of including human trafficking and slavery into our human rights and philanthropic programs and delving deeper into our supply chain. For example, we have been surveying our second tier suppliers on various materials such as cotton, down and merino wool over the last 2 years.

Recently, we decided to incorporate a 'social tech' sheet into our fabric and yarn approval process, in addition to the  regular tech sheet and eco tech sheet. The purpose of this tech sheet is to gather information related to certain raw materials that might be associated with human rights or animal welfare issues before a bulk order is placed.

We also included questions on labor standards, worker population and recruitment processes.  We hope to engage our second tier suppliers in our human rights dialogue going forward. We also started participating in design meetings to help inform our designers on issues related to certain raw materials. Since this design for decent work approach is a new process, it will be interesting to see what challenges we will face when we come to the intersection of business versus values.

On the philanthropic side, we have been donating to organizations working on this issue since 2005 because it disproportionately affects women and girls, a grant focus of EILEEN FISHER. This Spring, we will partner with the Not For Sale Campaign along with our wholesale partner  Bloomingdale's to support Not For Sale's  Amsterdam Red Light District project to help create new futures for survivors of sex slavery.

How has SA8000 played a role in enabling compliance?

Interestingly, we found out that SA8000 is one of the few  labor standards that already included human trafficking, it's under the forced and compulsory labor section (2.4). As a company that uses SA8000 and the ETI Base Code as our labor standards, we felt that we were already in compliance with the Act, without having to add a statement saying that this is a new issue on our radar.

Can you describe how EILEEN FISHER is taking action to comply with the five required activities?  

We sent a letter to all of our first tier suppliers (31 total) to inform them about the law, along with some educational materials on the topic and the supplier's country law on the issue. We also asked them to fill out a survey to help us assess where we could be vulnerable to human trafficking and slavery in our supply chain.

As a company that works very closely with our mills to create new and innovative fabrics and yarns, we felt that as a brand we should be the one ensuring that materials incorporated into our products are not tainted with human trafficking and slavery. The social tech sheet would allow us to identify some red flags and engage our mills in social dialogues prior to placing a bulk order.

Instead of focusing on the auditing, we feel that training is the key to engaging our supply chain in tackling this global issue. We have had a supply chain training program in China for almost 10 years and decided to incorporate human trafficking and slavery into the training last year. We believe that by giving our workers and managers the knowledge and tools, they will then be change agents in their individual communities. We have also held 3 training programs for our employees and sourcing and production agent.

Though not required by the Act, we have also included a section on our disclosure to educate our consumers on how they could be part of the solution. Consumer activism is actually something that is relatively new to us. We also have started to engage our own employees through internal articles and Human Rights Day pop quiz.

How much of an impact do you think this Act will have on the broader efforts to eliminate human trafficking?

An interesting thing that we keep noticing is that people seem to be taken aback by the terms "human trafficking" and "slavery", as if there is a sense of denial that this issue still exists today. This Act has definitely brought the issue to the forefront for many companies. Because there is so much attention on the topic now, companies are spending more time and resources on it, which will help the nonprofits working on this issue with their efforts on the ground. It is encouraging to see similar legislation in progress nationally as well. One day, these terms will progress from being taboo, as did domestic violence and AIDS used to be.

Learn more about what how EILEEN FISHER is taking action on SB657. For more information, contact Joleen Ong (JOng@sa-intl.org) or Luna Lee (LLee@eileenfisher.com).

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