Sustainable Fashion: An Alternative Interpretation of Due Diligence
As a garment factory manager, I hated being audited for due diligence. Here’s what I wish social compliance auditors had asked me about instead.
Due diligence is at the heart of the sustainable fashion agenda, and, increasingly, a legal requirement. Theoretically, I’m all for it. In an industry with a history of greeting injustices and scandals with cries of “it was them, not me!” — it’s a particularly welcome antidote. Nevertheless, I’m concerned about interpretation.
Will due diligence requirements push companies to consider their own role in the systemic challenges we’re collectively up against? Or will they emphasize verification and control, subsumed by a broader arsenal of command-and-control, top-down, approaches to sustainable fashion?
What is due diligence?
The OECD defines due diligence as a process through which companies — whether brands or suppliers — identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address their actual and potential adverse impacts. This includes adverse impacts (whether social or environmental) resulting directly from their own operations, and indirectly, via business relationships.
In other words: if you have a t-shirt shop, not only are you responsible for looking at the actual or potential adverse impacts within your own operations, but also the actual or potential adverse impacts of the company from which you buy the t-shirts, and the entities from which your t-shirt supplier buys its raw materials.
Why I hated being audited for due diligence
The garment factory I used to manage was based in Phnom Penh. Our fabrics came from China, Taiwan, and Thailand. Our inks came from Japan. Our trims and accessories came from China and Vietnam. Our threads and sewn-in labels came from a local supplier. Our polybags (which many brands insisted we use to individually package items) also came from a local supplier. We also had local subcontractors for lasering and embroidery, machines we couldn’t justify purchasing ourselves. In other words: our business depended on a network of relationships with…