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AMSTERDAM – Clean Clothes Campaign has accused the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) of being completely out of touch with realty and hiding behind “self-serving corporate social responsibility (CSR) gibberish” in its ten-year report.

The Dutch worker rights NGO claims the SAC’s new ‘Decade In Review’ presents “page upon page of inspirational quotes, graphics and buzz-words, every one worthy of rebuttal.” In the meantime, Clean Clothes suggest, “garment workers continue to be systematically exploited for greater profits.”

Clean Clothes reinforces its point by highlighting a graphic in the SAC’s recently published ten-year update which shows that in 2020, over 750 factories scored in the 90 per cent range for ‘Wages and Benefits,’ ‘Working Hours,’ ‘Employee Treatment’ and ‘Termination’ in the Higg FSLM scores. Says Clean Clothes: “There are no words for how out of touch with reality this is; 2020 was the year the pandemic hit and the reaction by brands – many proud members of SAC – caused hungerwage theft and labour rights violations on a massive scale. These scores represent a complete disconnect with garment workers’ realities.”

Clean Clothes adds: “That SAC’s focus is on protecting brand reputation rather than protecting garment workers’ rights is obvious. It has long been known that the whole practice of social auditing is fatally flawed, yet nevertheless SAC persisted and between 2018 and 2020 it developed yet another scoring methodology, the ‘Facility Social & Labor Module’ (FSLM). This will do nothing to remedy the urgent and very real violations garment workers face daily.”

Clean Clothes points out that SAC’s members include many brands that have been the focus of public campaigns and which have ridden roughshod over purchasing practices during the pandemic (we have also repeatedly pointed this out to the SAC).

Says Clean Clothes: “One example (of many) are Boohoo workers in the UK, where CCC UK/Labour Behind the Label has been campaigning on their behalf. Workers in Leicester are owed millions of pounds in back pay after years of £3.50/hr work, well below the minimum wage, which has established itself as a norm. This illegal exploitation has led to mass profits for Boohoo, who used cheap manufacturing costs to build their business into a multi-million-pound profit engine.”

We did ask the SAC several months ago whether Boohoo would be suspended as a member after modern day slavery was found in the company’s supply chain. Their short answer was: no.

Clean Clothes adds: “SAC tries to cover up their lack of actual impact with an ‘ecosystem’: an ever-growing web of equally pointless organisations developing “deep relations” in agreement with one another. Effectively, it is SAC agreeing with itself. Spinning up the Higg Index, the Apparel Impact Institute, the Social & Labor Convergence Program, the Policy Hub and more, and then ‘creating connections’ at various conferences seems to be the only real impact of the past 10 years. While that must have contributed to the hospitality and airline industries, it has yet to improve garment workers’ lives.”

Editor’s Note: It’s hard to disagree with many of the points Clean Clothes very articulately makes. I’d urge readers to decide for themselves, however:

Here is the SAC’s report: SAC-A-Decade-in-Review.pdf (apparelcoalition.org)

And here is the Clean Clothes’ response: A decade in denial — Clean Clothes Campaign


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