I want the clothes I buy to be nice, good quality and affordable, but also to be manufactured in places where human rights are respected. Can I count on it by choosing one of the brands belonging to LPP?
Anna Miazga, CSR Coordinator at LPP SA: I am positive you can. Our company is a leader among enterprises that engage in activities for human rights. This applies not only to our domestic stores and branches in Poland, but also our suppliers in Europe and Asia.
How can one be sure that they do not violate human rights? There are terrifying stories about operations of companies in Asia and their exploitation of workers, including children.
We constantly monitor suppliers through our auditors from Poland and from offices in Dhaka and Shanghai. This year, we have additionally launched a control project for all subcontractors in Bangladesh that involves an external partner, SGS company. We react on an ongoing basis if irregularities occur.
Do you already have your first post-control conclusions?
The audit is carried out all the time. We expect the first inspections to last until the end of February, so it is difficult to draw conclusions now. However, what we know for sure is the existence of differences in the approach to human rights between subcontractors from Europe and Asia. While on our continent entrepreneurs generally understand that those rights must be respected, in Asia - due to cultural and legal circumstances - this is not so obvious. That is why, while placing our orders, we introduce into factories that cooperate with us, above all, our values and standards.
What does this control system look like?
First off, we wrote down all the rules that are important for us and we present them to our subcontractors in the form of a code of conduct. This code is based on the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights and the ILO employee rights convention.
Our regulations include, among others, a ban on employing people under 15, the prohibition of slave labor, the obligation to ensure decent work and pay, and payment for overtime, the obligation to treat men and women equally, and to protect the environment. This code is open - we make it available on our website and every entrepreneur who wants to cooperate with us must read and sign it. Afterwards, we systematically check whether and how these principles are respected. We have our own offices in Bangladesh and Shanghai. If during the inspection we observe any irregularities, our contractor is immediately informed and required to sign a document with a specified deadline for remedying the breach.
It is a fairly light treatment of someone who breaks human rights.
It all depends on the scale of irregularities. There are also such - we define them as a catalog of critical tasks - with which we do not provide time to adjust. Like, for example, child labour. In this case we request the removal of such irregularities immediately, on the same day.
How do entrepreneurs from Bangladesh react to such controls?
Calmly, because they are used to them. Since 2013, when the largest construction catastrophe of sewing facilities occurred in this country, with more than 1,100 people killed, such inspections of production plants are on the daily agenda. The ACCORD association was formed, of which LPP is a member. This is an association of entrepreneurs from the clothing industry that, following those events, decided to take control over the safety and treatment of employees. Initially we focused on health and safety at work. Now we are dealing mainly with respect for human rights, for example by introducing a system for reporting violations.
What does affiliation to ACCORD mean?
That we are not allowed to produce a single T-shirt in a plant without previously submitting it for the inspection. The results of this agreement are substantial - over 90 percent of the violations identified with such audits have been removed.
The ACCORD agreement was signed for five years. Now, its another edition is being developed and we have already joined it. The second agreement is aimed at preparing the Bengali government to carry out independent checks and audits in factories and to ensure further implementation of measures for the sustainable improvement of working conditions.
Are there also instances of violation of human rights in Europe?
This is not a problem occurring in just one latitude. In Europe, practices of non-payment for overtime have been identified, but there are also cases of slave labor when employees are robbed of their passports and forced to work for the company on poor terms.
Is this also happening in Poland?
Our company has so far focused on foreign markets. A few percent of our collection is created on the domestic market. But recently we have been trying to transfer part of that production to Poland and therefore we are developing a code of principles similar to that of Asia. We use there the most frequent cases of human rights violations that have been highlighted in EU reports and documents. We want that code to be ready by the end of this year.
Would not it be easier to simply produce cheaper and get more profits?
Indeed, we have already spent 16 million PLN to this end. But we want to do it because it is in line with what we believe in and what is important for our company. For us, the man always comes first. There is also another reason - more and more consumers are paying attention to the fact that the things they buy are manufactured with respect for human rights. And we are meeting those expectations.