Solidarity Center

Solidarity Center: Promoting Rights, Raising Standards

Washington, United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
Idea
Budget: 
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The garment supply chain is full of rights abuses, as workers are made to maximize production at the lowest cost. The proposed solution will demonstrate a supply chain model that replaces codes of conduct with worker rights promotion, while empowering consumers and educatio

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if supply chain accountability meant going beyond the absence of rights violations and actually promoted workers’ rights, women’s rights, and the well-being of entire communities?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The global garment supply chain, with its largely female workforce, is rife with issues including child labor, forced labor, wage theft, hazardous working conditions, growing informality, gender-based violence, and severe worker exploitation. Most accountability mechanisms fail to promote true worker empowerment that would lead to decent working conditions and living wages, which are critical for uplifting entire communities of workers.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The proposed model focuses on garment supply chain accountability through worker rights promotion. Through its network of garment sector trade unions, the Solidarity Center (SC) would design an online retail site to connect conscious consumers with garments made by workers who have organized their own independent democratic organizations to negotiate over working conditions, including wages and safety. Proceeds from online sales would go back into technical support to build the capacity of workers in the supply chain to assert and protect their rights to safe and decent working conditions. The business model and products would be designed engaging fashion and business grad students, developing a cadre of conscientious brand and buyer staff.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The SC’s solution demonstrates that a fair, transparent, and profitable garment supply chain is possible by favoring suppliers with independent workers’ orgs. For example, a dress designed by a fashion student would be available for purchase through the online retail site. In the pilot, the dress would be sourced from a co-op factory in India where workers have an independent union that has set workplace standards, including a living wage. The price per dress paid would cover these standards, and conscious consumers would have direct access to guilt-free fashion. The proceeds from online sales would be reinvested into supporting the union to organize more garment workers and protect their rights to safe and decent working conditions.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Still in the idea stage, the project would build on the SC’s extensive sector knowledge and partnerships to develop a self-sustaining supply chain model that demonstrates the feasibility and impact of true accountability that promotes worker rights. The SC’s model would provide concrete recommendations for supply chain partners to exceed the minimum standard of an absence of rights violations. The model would engage future buyer reps in improved methods of supply chain engagement by involving fashion and business students interested in ethical fashion, empower consumers to impact the industry through targeted purchasing, give preferred market access to union factories, and support workers to be drivers of change throughout the supply chain. Women, as the workforce majority, would be the primary beneficiaries of capacity-building efforts as they organize for higher workplace standards.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Once operational, the expansion potential of the initiative is significant and includes: 1.) Expanding the model to include more garment-producing countries; 2.) Replicating the model in other supply chains; 3.) Moving the supply chain discussion from minimum standards to a common standard of decent jobs that enable workers to move out of poverty and promote more equitable economic growth; 4.) Linking empowered worker communities with bargaining power and environmental groups to advocate for cleaner, greener production; and 5.) Providing preferred market access to employers respecting unions.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Once operational, the online sale of union-made garments will generate sufficient resources to sustain the initiative, including building the capacity of workers’ organizations in the supply chain. As these organizations grow and are capable of representing more workers in additional factories, the initiative has the potential to extend to additional manufacturers. Extensive consumer engagement will be a key component to the initiative.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

While some online shops match consumers to ethically-sourced, fair wage-marketed products, most of these initiatives are inherently small-scale, supporting communities of artisans. Few online marketplaces list sources for union-made garments, and include the US-specific labor411.org and more global sweatfree.org. The proposed project differs by using a multi-faceted approach to demonstrating a replicable supply chain model that provides consumers the opportunity to directly invest in worker rights and accountability. The project fundamentally challenges the current abusive industry model.
Team

Founding Story

Since the Tazreen fire in Bangladesh, funders have put tremendous resources into promoting factory safety. Very little of this has gone into building workers’ capacity to assert their rights to decent working conditions, despite growing awareness of abuses in the garment industry. Few resources have gone to challenging supply chain practices leading to downward pressures on wages and conditions. With decades of experience promoting worker rights in the sector, the SC questioned why garment purchasing could not favor a decent work model over the quest for cheap labor. The proposed project answers this question by generating funding to promote worker rights by actually promoting worker rights.

Team

Since the project is in the idea stage, the team is composed of three SC staff members who work extensively on promoting worker rights in the garment supply chain in Asia, particularly in Bangladesh. To develop the idea, the SC will utilize the in-house expertise of staff that works globally in the sector with a multitude of stakeholders. Since the SC has deep ties with independent workers’ organizations in the global garment supply chain, the initiative will be piloted in one or two countries with the strongest partners. The SC will include more of its partners in more countries as the project grows. The SC will supplement in-house expertise with universities and graduate students interested in learning more about the industry, responsible sourcing, and worker rights to develop a business model and design products. As the project launches, the team will grow to include individuals who have experience with the online retail business. The SC will utilize its network of allies to involve NGOs that work on consumer-side supply chain pressure to improve worker rights in the sector to reach larger numbers of conscientious consumers. Once the project is operational, it would have its own full-time staff who would work in close collaboration with SC program staff and partners. As an initiative of the SC, the project would be managed initially by the SC’s existing management and board structures until or unless it becomes an independent initiative.
Value Chain: Where does your work fit into the apparel value chain? [check all that apply]

Manufacturing, Consumption.

Your Role: What is your relationship to the apparel industry? [check all that apply]

Advocate/Organizer, Consumer, Non-profit Staff.

Target Population: What stakeholder groups do you engage or empower in your work? [check all that apply]

Brands, Consumers, Designers, Factory Workers, Factory Owners, Policymakers, Researchers, Sourcing Manager / Supply Chain Manager, Supplier - contractor, Women, Youth.

● Intervention Focus: What are you trying to achieve / influence? [check all that apply]

Access to Essential Services (i.e. Healthcare and Education), Access to Finance, Access to Social Protection Services (i.e. Insurance, Pension, etc.), Accountability, Conscious Consumerism, Labor Rights (i.e. Collective Bargaining, etc.), Gender Equality, Anti-forced Labor or Anti-Human Trafficking, Physical Working Conditions, Transparency.

Lever for Change: Select up to 3 ways your work is helping to transform the industry.

Advocacy, Capacity Building, Standards.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

A Job is Not Enough: Low-Income Workers Cannot Secure Long-Term Well-Being, Sustainability is Not Yet in the DNA: Fast Fashion’s Current Model Disincentivizes Value-Driven Economies.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Unite More than Voice: Tap into Community Capital and Collective Resources, Activate Local Know-how for Driving Solutions: Build Opportunities for Workers to Become Leaders, Disrupt Business as Usual: Target Key Players Who Can Influence the Bottom Line.

Innovation Inspiration: When you first conceived of your project, did you think of it as applicable to the apparel industry?

yes

If you answered "no" to the previous question, which industry was your project originally aimed at transforming?

● Replicating in the Apparel Industry: If your project didn't initially target the apparel industry, how are you specifically tailoring it to do so now?
Are you nurturing or inspiring others to be changemakers? If so, how?
● Tell us about the partnerships that enhance your approach. How have you collaborated with others in the industry to increase your impact?

The SC partners extensively with workers’ organizations in over 60 countries, including those representing garment workers.

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