Denim or damn it by Peter Ongera

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Peter Ongera talks about the Ethical Denim Council’s report that spotlights the urgent need for reform within the denim industry.

My guess is that you are wearing or in your wardrobe there is a jeans trouser or shirts and skirts made of Denim. Denim is perhaps one of the most well-known and commonly worn fabrics there is, from the classic blue jeans to jackets, dresses, overalls, and more. 

Denim dates back to the 17th century created in Nîmes, France, serge de Nîmes was a cotton twill cloth made of wool and silk. Denim jeans were invented in the 1870s by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss, the same Levi who founded Levi’s Jeans-the Davis and Levi Strauss & Co. for the jeans we know and love today.

The global denim industry was said to be worth between $65 billion and $75 billion in 2022. However, the denim supply chain is reeling from reduced production and lower costs. Even as consumers grapple with rising prices, the cost being paid to suppliers has dropped.

A glaring disconnect emerges between purchasing practices and the pursuit of fair wages. Suppliers find themselves unable to raise wages or ensure equitable compensation when brands cancel orders and delay payments. Overwhelmingly, suppliers express a pressing need for compliance clauses within their contracts, offering them a vital safeguard against unethical behavior.

The Ethical Denim Council(EDC), a newly formed nonprofit organization in New York unveiled an illuminating report, on the present state of the denim industry. This comprehensive report, gleaned from a voluntary survey of players in the denim supply chain delves into the industry’s current purchasing practices and their impact on the workforce, shedding light on crucial issues that demand immediate attention.

Report advisor, Dr Mark Anner emphasizes, “The EDC 2023 State of the Denim Supply Chain report clearly demonstrates that brand pricing and other purchasing practices often undermine our sustainability and worker well-being goals. The inclusion of a compliance rider to protect suppliers and their workers is a crucial step toward addressing this concerning trend.”

The buzzword ‘sustainability’ echoes throughout corporate corridors, as companies pledge to protect the environment and advocate for workers’ rights. However, the Ethical Denim Council’s report underscores the undeniable reality that despite this rhetoric, little progress has been made.

Born from the Transformers Foundation’s 2020 report exposing unethical practices within the industry, the Ethical Denim Council emerged as a platform pushing for a fair and equitable denim industry. It aims to bridge the gap between purchasing practices and workers’ compensation while dismantling existing power structures that favor brands and retailers.

EDC founder Andrew Olah states, “It’s disheartening to observe that suppliers within the denim industry are not treated with the same commitment to compliance that is readily embraced when it comes to social compliance. Neglecting commercial compliance equally impacts the rights and security of workers. One would expect that brands, valuing their reputation, would seek to avoid the issues our poll has unfortunately uncovered.”

The Ethical Denim Council’s report serves as a call to action, spotlighting the urgent need for reform within the industry. It reverberates with a resounding message: the time has come to transform the industry’s practices, ensuring a more sustainable, ethical, and fair future for all stakeholders.

Peter Ongera

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