Earlier this month, Patagonia disclosed that focused foreign contract worker (FCW) assessments—conducted by Verité on its behalf—at material supplier factories in Taiwan revealed that it can take foreign workers up to two years of a three-year employment contract to pay off recruitment-related debt.

Patagonia has been commendably open about this and other problems it has uncovered related to the employment of foreign contract workers and the practical and measurable steps the company is already taking to address the issues it its own supply chain. Their response to these findings places them among a small group of companies that are forthrightly tackling risks to forced labor. Indeed, Patagonia’s move to reach beyond its Tier 1 finished goods suppliers to Tier 2 fabric mills is an unprecedented move for most apparel companies. You can read more about Patagonia’s approach on its blog here.

Following the initial baseline FCW assessments, Verité worked with Patagonia to develop and roll out comprehensive Migrant Worker Employment Standards and Implementation Guidance. The standards cover every aspect of the employment relationship, beginning with screening labor brokers and the worker recruitment process to onsite management of migrant workers through the end of the contract and eventual repatriation.

Patagonia is confronting the unacceptably high cost of a job to workers head on. From June 1, 2015, suppliers and their brokers are prohibited from charging or collecting any recruitment-related fees or expenses to workers even if it is lawful to do so. If workers do pay fees, the suppliers are obliged to reimburse the workers. Patagonia also requires suppliers to reimburse workers hired before June 1, 2015, for any recruitment-related fees or expenses paid in excess of applicable legal limits.

The Standards and Guidance were initially introduced to Taiwanese suppliers at a workshop run jointly by Patagonia and Verité in December 2014. The standards have since been applied to Patagonia’s entire global supply chain, and Patagonia has made them publicly available for other companies to use as a benchmark for their own efforts to address forced labor and trafficking in their supply chains. You can access the Standards and Guidance here.

Verité continues to work with Patagonia and its suppliers to effectively implement these best practices standards on the ground. The changes required are substantial, but for workers at risk of forced labor they will provide tangible financial benefit, and give workers the ability to choose their own paths as laws, corporate codes of conduct and ethics require.

For more information, please contact Declan Croucher.

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