As the head of the Levi Strauss & Co. global supply chain, one of my responsibilities is to visit vendor factories – where our products are made – all around the globe. This means I come face-to-face with the people who cut, sew and do everything else required to make our jeans, khakis and other clothes.
This is a part of my job that I truly enjoy, in large part because I work for a company that is committed to workers’ needs. By walking into apparel factories I see first-hand where we’re making progress – and where we need to do more.
Case in point: Cambodia.
Earlier this month, with the support of the Cambodian government, apparel trade unions and manufacturers there signed an agreement to work together. This may sound like a fairly basic step, but for these parties, simply agreeing to talk is a sign of progress and hope.
Many observers expect this agreement will improve industrial relations, reduce labor unrest and, ultimately, make the working environment better for all parties involved.
We regularly work with many people outside the company – apparel factory owners, governments, unions, industry associations, and other stakeholders – to increase dialogue and improve respect for worker rights. In fact, our company has a long history of support for apparel workers, in Cambodia and around the world.
More than two decades ago, Levi Strauss & Co. was the first multinational apparel company to establish global labor, environmental, health and safety standards – our Terms of Engagement – for our manufacturing suppliers.
When we began sourcing our products from Cambodia in 1999, those Terms were critical to how we chose vendors. And we know that achieving the goals of our Terms in Cambodia requires an ongoing engagement with — and support for — workers and the industry.
Our commitment is not limited to our Terms of Engagement.
• For more than 10 years, we’ve worked closely with the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program to not only increase respect for apparel worker rights, but to also improve the well being of Cambodian apparel workers.
• Levi Strauss & Co. is also participating in – and funding – the Better Factories Cambodia One Change Campaign to address worker health and nutrition issues and prevent incidents of workers fainting in apparel factories.
• Recognizing the need for stronger institutions and rule of law in Cambodia, Levi Strauss & Co. and the Levi Strauss Foundation provided start-up grants to support the establishment of the Arbitration Council Foundation of Cambodia. The Arbitration Council was created to resolve labor disputes. Viewed by many as the most transparent judicial entity in Cambodia, the Arbitration Council has played a key role in the peaceful resolution of over 500 labor-management disputes.
• We’ve also worked closely with CARE Cambodia to address worker health and welfare issues through funding and participation in the “Sewing for a Brighter Future” initiative, which has reached over 100,000 workers in Cambodia since it began.
• And we’re now building on our original Terms of Engagement by piloting a new approach with factories. The idea is to support a variety of programs that will ultimately improve the lives of apparel workers in the countries where our clothes are made. One of our pilot projects is in Cambodia, and we’re very excited to hear directly from the apparel workers as part of the pilot process.
That’s just one country. There are 30 more in our supply chain. And there’s work to do in each one.
The agreement by Cambodia’s apparel trade unions and manufacturers to work together is encouraging, and we’re committed to being a part of a long-term solution there and around the globe.
We’re leaning into this challenge, because we know it’s the right thing to do – for apparel workers, for the people of Levi Strauss & Co., and for you, the consumer.