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Nov 2, 2022

Ethical Apparel with Dr. Robert Handfield and Dr. MD Rejaul Hasan (podcast)

With support from TWCF, researchers are creating transparency around apparel manufacturing for both consumers and investors.

By Templeton Staff

How sustainable are the clothes you buy? Are they ethically made? In a time of accelerating globalization, technology, and information, there is a growing focus on the workers whose lives are most impacted by how ethical — or not — those who oversee supply chains choose to be. With a new tool, a TWCF-supported research team led by Robert Handfield and MD Rejaul Hasan at North Carolina State University, hopes to increase transparency around apparel manufacturing for both consumers and investors.

"As a consumer today, there are just so many different labels, so many different things that claim to be sustainable, we’re often overwhelmed," observes Handfield. He says, "Sustainability refers to two things. There’s the environmental component of sustainability, being green. But the second component is human labor rights." Handfield's team is trying to "create a clear messaging system, a single tag or QR code, where a consumer, before making a purchase, can look at that tag and be assured that the garment was produced in a factory that respected labor and human rights."

To this end, Handfield and Hasan have been developing the Ethical Apparel Index (EAI). Using machine-based learning, the EAI is an analytical framework that ingests different audit data about criteria needed for ethical apparel production. To date, this includes data about child labor and forced labor, wages, working hours, health and safety, disciplinary action, discrimination, freedom of association, and contractual relationships.

By identifying unethical working conditions and communicating those findings to consumers, investors, and other supply chain stakeholders, the team hopes the EAI will enable informed decisions for individuals, and that this in turn will influence markets. "Our vision is one day, we will be in a world where there will be no brand who doesn’t know what’s going on in their supply chain. Those who don’t endorse ethical manufacturing probably will not survive in the market," shares Hasan. "When workers are treated better, we will see a huge increase in human flourishing."

Listen with the player above to find out:

  • What drove the researchers to pursue this project, including the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, in which garment workers were forced to continue working even after dangerous structural damage was discovered in the building the previous day, leaving more than 2500 seriously injured, with a death toll of 1134.
  • How the EAI hopes to answer the problem of countless kinds of audits, as well as harmful or deadly working conditions that prevail in subcontractor relationships
  • What other challenges still lie ahead in the effort to increase transparency, analyze data, and move toward ensuring human rights for laborers
  • How the EAI hopes to inspire a consumer-based regulation framework for other industries that are also dangerous and ambivalent about human rights.

Watch the video related to this project.

Learn about Templeton World Charity Foundation's Economics and Human Flourishing priority.

Read the transcript from the interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay, presented by writer/producer Tavia Gilbert featuring: Robert Handfield, Ph.D., Bank of America University Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain Management, North Carolina State University, and Rejaul Hasan, Ph.D., Wilson College of Textiles, North Carolina State University.

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and host Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.