Making Advance Possible

In Conversation with Zoe

Meet the factory advisor making 
sure workers have a voice

PVH Corp., parent company of Tommy Hilfiger, is committed to improving the way that clothes are made, to drive fashion forward for good. PVH uses its global reach and expertise to manage the global supply chain that supports its iconic family of fashion brands, including Tommy Hilfiger – and it is determined to implement the programs and procedures needed to lead the way toward a fairer, safer working environment for our supply chain workers.

As the fashion industry has grown, more and more people around the world have become part of fashion supply chains: globally, over 300 million workers are involved in making the clothes we wear. But they can face poor and unsafe working conditions. They may lack labor rights and a large number come from vulnerable populations, such as female and migrant workers. The size and complexity of the fashion supply chain makes tackling these issues a significant challenge.

PVH learned that the traditional way of implementing rules and regulations – typically relying on factory audits – wouldn’t be enough to create real and lasting improvements to workers’ rights, pay and conditions. Zoe Zheng, a Corporate Responsibility Advisor for PVH based in Shanghai, has seen the limitations of this approach firsthand during her earlier years as an auditor.

“Auditing is about finding problems,” Zoe says, “and telling people what is wrong and how to fix them. That makes it hard to build trust. Plus, assessments only allowed us to see what was happening on the days we visited – it was just a snapshot. It was hard to ensure that management was going to engage workers collaboratively on improvements.”

We are building trust with people who manage and work in the factories, which is the most important aspect of this work.

Zoe is part of a new approach – one that is built on a simple but powerful idea. As Zoe puts it: “People who work in factories are closest to any problems there may be and, often, they’re the best people to suggest solutions.”

This idea is the foundation of PVH’s Workplace Cooperation program. The program is run in partnership with Better Work, a joint initiative of the International Labour Organization and the International Finance Corporation. It is designed to elevate and amplify workers’ voices and bring factory managers and workers together to identify and solve shared problems.

The first step has been to run workplace communication training at 46 of PVH’s most strategic factories, which focused on improving dialogue within factories and identifying shared goals for improvement. Next, additional programs will be run to facilitate the creation of democratically elected worker management committees. Committee members will then be trained to identify the root causes of problems and create their own solutions.

Zoe’s role has shifted from auditor to advisor. She is helping to initiate the program in factories across China, and is already seeing improvements. “We are building trust with people who manage and work in the factories, which is the most important aspect of this work. It is important that there is a comfortable and safe space for discussion, and that is what this program is creating.”

The Workplace Cooperation program is still in its early days, but Zoe is optimistic about the changes it will bring about. “Our suppliers can see that we are there to make things better for everyone. I believe we can help worker and management representatives work better together and find some great solutions.”

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