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A Rising Tide Lifts All (Compliant) Boats

By: Russ Jowell (rjowell@wrapcompliance.org)
Feb 22

For a brief period during my formative years, I had an ardent desire to become the captain of a cargo vessel when I became an adult. Growing up near one of the largest ports in the United States, boats, water, and marine life in general were an integral part of my childhood. I was particularly fascinated by large cargo ships and the ports that serviced them and anytime I learned that my family would be within earshot of a coastline, I became downright giddy at the prospect of laying eyes on a fleet of marine masterpieces. My love of nautical things also manifested itself in a collection of small toy boats at home that I loved to play with during bath time. Before my mother filled the tub each night, I would toss all of them in and watch them rise to buoyancy as the water level in the tub increased. One night though, as I was getting ready to get into the bathtub, I noticed something odd. All of my boats were floating around except for one, which had made its way underneath the waterline and was spewing a stream of air bubbles that reached all the way to the surface. I was puzzled for a moment as to why this boat was more comfortable on the bottom of the tub than at the surface (even my toy submarine was floating on the surface), but as I reached down to retrieve it, I noticed that there was a sizeable gash in its side that had allowed water to fill the interior of the vessel and take it to the bottom of the tub. To this day, I have yet to figure out how that gash occurred (after all, I kept my boats in a toy box along with LEGOs of every different variety along with various sharp, metallic components of a partial Erector set), but the incident did manage to teach me two other important lessons: that fluid displacement is the best friend of every ship captain in the world, and that only truly watertight vessels will float as the tide rises while the others will slip away to the bottom.  

Before we delve into the connection between toy boats and social compliance, I want to take a trip back to the 1960s and a speech by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in which he exclaimed that a "rising tide lifts all boats." The context of the phrase was economic, referring to the belief that any macro-level improvements in the U.S. economy (i.e. rising average wages, higher productivity, or more available jobs) would be beneficial for all. What does this have to do with social compliance and WRAP? Let's imagine for a minute that the rising tide is representative of the rising expectations for social compliance and the individual boats represent individual production facilities. With that in mind, the analogy should now be crystal clear; the buoyant (compliant) boats will rise with the proverbial “compliance tide” while the not-so-buoyant (non-compliant) boats will not.  

Now admittedly, we at WRAP do not know much about marine engineering or fluid mechanics, but the truth of the matter is that the “tide” of social compliance is on the rise and anyone whose compliance is not water-tight is at risk of sinking. In the wake of two very turbulent years in Bangladesh's garment industry, and with tensions now reaching a boiling point in the industry of Cambodia, social compliance within the garment supply chain has been thrust into the forefront of public thought and, by extension, has become a primary criterion for brands and buyers in selecting facilities to manufacture their products. Obvious moral arguments aside, compliance has become a critical aspect of the apparel business, on par with price and quality. With the proliferation of digital information in every corner of the globe, today’s consumers are more educated than ever. Western consumers in particular have become keenly aware that over 90% of their apparel and footwear comes from the opposite hemisphere, often times from countries less developed than their own, and many have begun to consider a brand’s social reputation when making purchases. This means that upholding a strong social reputation has become just as important for the companies themselves as setting competitive prices and ensuring quality goods. Many of these companies have come to rely on social compliance certifications like WRAP as symbols of trustworthiness when making sourcing decisions. A WRAP Certification is an indication that the certified facility can be counted on to do things right and to operate within legal and ethical workplace guidelines. It says that, as a facility, you are not only educated on safe and ethical labor, but that you also know how to put WRAP’s 12 Principles into action. Numerous companies even go so far as to base their purchasing decisions on the presence of such a certificate. When a facility displays a WRAP Certificate, they are saying to the world that their principles are solid and their practices are robust. This also means that WRAP certificates are not given out lightly. The events that transpired throughout the global garment industry in 2012 and 2013 prompted us to take significant steps to further strengthen the integrity of our compliance program and ensure that only truly compliant facilities can show our seal. To that end, we have taken several actions. We have revised our certification requirements and are doubling down to ensure they are met. We are strengthening our commitment to accountability for both our facilities and our monitoring partners. We have augmented our own staff with auditors so that we can conduct more direct audits on our own in critical countries like Bangladesh. While we are working to expand our presence around the world, quality remains significantly more important than quantity to us at WRAP. While we are committed to working with our facilities to ensure that they remain in compliance, engagement on the part of that facility is an absolute must and facilities that choose not to engage in the process will be dropped from it without hesitation. Our status as a not-for-profit group means that our success is not driven by profits, but rather by the lives we impact and ultimately improve. Therefore, part of our mission is to protect the integrity of our standard, which in turn, serves to improve millions of lives around the world.  

Over the past two years, the world has seen the horrific consequences of putting profits before people and cupidity before compliance. No human life is ever worth just a little extra profit or just a few more cartons of products. Yes it is true that WRAP certifications are good for a facility’s own reputation, but they ultimately go much farther than that. When it comes right down to it, we are in the business of improving lives. WRAP Certifications are a means ensuring stability and security, both literally and figuratively, for millions of workers around the world. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that those who support the billion-dollar garment industry that so many of us depend on don’t drown in the sea of tragedy and despair.

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