Hanes is a line of promotional clothing produced by HanesBrands, a clothing company headquartered in North Carolina USA which employs 50,000 people internationally.
Hanesbrands owns several other well known brands including Champion (its second largest brand) and Playtex.
Hanesbrands' Vision is "to be a world-class consumer goods company with a distinctive competence in operating a low-cost global supply chain." The last bit here is potentially a bit worrying, if the vision driver is low cost then where does this take you?
Right at the top of the employee code of conduct is the message from the Executive Chairman "These Global Business Standards were developed to provide you with information and resources to make informed business decisions and act on them with integrity. These standards are also a declaration to our customers, business partners and stockholders that we are committed to conducting business as we always have – by doing the right thing. In your career, you may be faced with a situation that does not appear to support our business values or you’re not sure if it is the right course of action." It then goes onto list contact points where to go for advice, outside the individual's direct chain of command.
An interesting statement aimed at empowering the individual employee. I like it although it's difficult to tell how this sort of thing works in practice.
Moving away from employees, how does the "low-cost global supply chain" work?
In the recent article on B&C we highlighted operations in Bangladesh. The National Labor Committee in the US have been to Bangladesh and their report here from 2006 was not good reading for Hanes. The reaction of Hanes and Wal-Mart (also cited) was to terminate supplies. On the face of it, good, but then some (United Students Against Sweatshops) say "instead of staying to correct the situation, Hanes abandoned the factory, leaving workers without jobs".
You may think damned if you do take supplies from developing countries, damned if you don't. And with the wide range of interests of people willing to criticise, you are of course right.
That article actually focuses on Hanes' operations in the Dominican Republic - "abusive and unsafe working conditions" - something that is confronted head on and prominently on the Hanesbrands website (a link on the main Values page) and by an independent report.
Hanes have not abandoned their operations but recognised 'managerial issues' and 'overtime pay practices' and other issues that needed addressing and it is to be welcomes that they appear to have addressed them, including the retrospective payment of overtime.
What's the big difference between the Dominican Republic and Bangladesh? In the former the workers are employed by Hanes, in the latter by the sub-contractor.
Ethical Corporation writes "while brand pullouts from specific factories such as those by Wal-Mart and Hanesbrands may jolt Bangladeshi employers into putting their houses in order, they still are not seen as the most effective way of dealing with a sticky situation, especially when the decision could leave many impoverished".
I am not sure. Closure may seem harsh and simply an easy way to appease some critics, but we do not know what messages were coming from the current owners; in the long run if a consistent approach is taken those in Bangladesh or other places who profit from unethical labour practices will have to changes their ways.
But some engagement with (including where appropriate inspection of) suppliers is important.
That thought takes me back to Hanesbrands' Global Standards for Suppliers, an interesting read. Asides from what you would expect to see in terms of ethical business practices there is some quite refreshing content (such as "Gifts, favors and entertainment are not needed in order
to conduct business with Hanesbrands,") and an ethical "Mirror Test".
The Global Standards say....
"Failure to observe and abide by these Global Standards for Suppliers may result in Hanesbrands ceasing to do business with such supplier. As evidence of their concurrence, suppliers will enter into a written commitment to comply with these Standards and sign the attached Acknowledgement Card."
The document includes a tear off reply slip to certify "I hereby acknowledge receipt of Hanesbrands’ Global Standards for Suppliers, and certify that our company is, and will continue to be, in compliance with the provisions of the Global Standards for Suppliers."
I assume the Bangladeshi factory owners had looked in the mirror, admired their well cut suits, and then returned the reply slip! Hanesbrands' written standards point to their heart being in the right place but perhaps they need to be a bit more proactive in getting out there into the field and seeing first hand what is going on.
There is only limited time for each of these brand profile summaries - I welcome any further feedback on this or others.