7/29/2020 A Close Look at a Fashion Supply Chain Is Not Pretty - The New York Times “I have already spent so much money to come here, if they send me back now I will lose that money,” an Imperial Garments worker said in the Transparentem report. “And the land I sold to come here is gone anyway.” A detail from the Pen Apparel factory building. Photo Illustration by The New York Times; Google Street View The Reaction When Transparentem presented its findings to a dozen brands supplied by TAL, nine companies agreed to begin discussions on a collective reimbursement plan, including the Dutch brand Suitsupply and American names like Levi’s, LL Bean, Eddie Bauer and Brooks Brothers (before Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy this month). Tu Rinsche, the vice president of engagement and partnerships at Transparentem, noted that Transparentem had never seen such a rapid response to one of its reports, or one in which the factory owner played such an active role. After several rounds of negotiations, an agreement was reached: More than 1,400 workers from eight countries would receive payment from what TAL called a “substantial” collective action fund, distributed to workers in two installments — on July 24 and July 31. According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the ethical trade consultancy Impactt had also been hired by the brands to assess the living and working conditions of TAL factory workers in Malaysia and ensure they were in line with coronavirus health and safety protocols. The A.A.F.A. called the deal “an immediate solution” that would “protect the rights of all workers throughout our supply chains.” But beyond saying there would be compensation, TAL and the brands declined to say much else, except that the workers would only be partly — and not fully — compensated for their debts. Although the restitution fund may total several million dollars, according to guidance from Transparentem, TAL declined to disclose the full amount of compensation that would be paid, or break down the contributions made by TAL and the participating brands. Both the A.A.F.A. and TAL declined to outline which brands were taking part in the compensation agreement. (TAL supplies roughly 75 companies.) At a time when questions are growing around what fashion supply chain transparency means, the reception of the report underscored how few companies still actively tackle labor abuses unless challenged, or disclose their actions afterward. One of the starkest revelations in the report was that TAL had previously identified many issues — including worker exploitation by recruitment agents — to the extent that in 2018 it stopped hiring from Bangladesh, where the most unethical practices had taken place. Most of the TAL workers in Malaysia who were from Bangladesh were hired before 2018. TAL, though relatively unknown outside fashion, is nonetheless a visible company within the industry. It is a signatory of the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, suggesting its progressive leanings. Why, then, didn’t TAL immediately reimburse the affected workers when it discovered the abuses and pay them back as part of their wages in 2018? https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/28/style/malaysia-forced-labor-garment-workers.html 3/4

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