Traceability, Transparency and VF’s Strive for Continuous Improvement
Last month at VF Corporation, we released our fourth sustainability & responsibility report, Made for Change. This report outlines our continued leadership in driving measurable, industry-wide progress across areas including greenhouse emissions, sustainable materials, the circular economy and community impact. The Made for Change platform guides our progress in both sustainability and responsibility within the industry and our communities to create a positive impact across people, planet and our products.
We believe our traceability program and the transparency behind it are foundational to our sustainability and responsible sourcing efforts. Our traceability efforts give us the assurance our guidelines are adhered to, while the transparency of our efforts helps to build confidence and trust with our stakeholders and consumers.
How Does Traceability Work?
Tracing the journey of our products and the materials used to make them, as they move through our complex supply chain, is a huge undertaking. Creating a true partnership all the way through our value chain – among our suppliers and their suppliers – is the key to maintaining a sustainable supply chain and driving the improvements needed to meet our responsibility commitments. Our comprehensive traceability program upholds our commitment to transparency and helps us ensure that our standards are met, from the development and sourcing of materials to completion of end products.
We know we can only address problems we can see, so expanding our traceability efforts to dig deeper into our extended supply chain is one of our current initiatives. Expanding our traceability efforts will inform VF’s continued and future collaborations with human rights experts, governments and international organizations to identify salient human rights issues and environmental impacts to focus on throughout our supply chain.
Understanding the origin of our materials and the journey they take to become products that fill our distribution centers is only part of the process. We also develop and publish in-depth product traceability maps that follow some of our most iconic brand products.. This allows us to provide our consumers with an easily accessible, visual representation of a product’s entire journey along the global value chain, including community development projects, water stewardship initiatives, energy efficiency, chemical management and the use of recycled materials. In 2019, we published 10 product maps. By the end of FY2020 we published 44. Today, we are on track to meet our goal of mapping 100 products by the end of 2021.
Through product mapping, we have traced more than 700 facilities, Tier 1 through Tier 5, that cover all stages of our supply chain from raw material extraction to material production and product distribution.
We are committed to fully tracing the supply chain for five of VF’s key materials from Tier 1 through 5 by 2027. Currently, we trace through Tier 5 for some materials – including leather and cotton. Other material supply chains are fully traced and validated through third-party certifications such as ZQRX for wool and the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) for down. Using end-to-end supply chain data, we overlay human rights indices as well as potential environmental risk data that enable us to focus on various areas of risk – from human rights abuses to deforestation, water scarcity and pollution, and protected forest management.
Our comprehensive materials mapping includes commodity volume data, country-level risk maps, supplier surveys and information garnered from industry collaborations. Supplier surveys help us to validate brand material and product claims, and verify compliance with policies and trade regulations.
What Specific Actions Are We Taking?
- In 2019 we identified potential environmental risks associated with sourcing leather from Brazil linked to deforestation in the Amazon Biome. As a result of tracing our entire leather supply chain, we were no longer assured that our suppliers upheld our commitments and we made the decision to stop sourcing leather for international products from Brazil until we have the confidence in the data.
- During 2020, we continued to source 100% down certified to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). The RDS requires that down does not come from animals subjected to unnecessary harm, provides supply chain traceability, as well as tracks and validates down from farm to finished product. This initiative began in 2014, when The North Face® brand launched the RDS with partnership expertise from Control Union Certifications and Textile Exchange. The brand then gave ownership of the RDS to Textile Exchange, making it accessible to any organization in any industry. RDS is now the globally adopted animal welfare and traceability standard within the apparel industry for responsible down and feather sourcing.
- Starting in 2021 we’ve employed The BHive® technology to digitize the chemical inventory of much of our supply chain. Consolidating this data on one, universal platform will improve chemical traceability and our ability to actively monitor chemical use to continuously negate potential health and safety risks to workers in supplier factories.
- Along with the Timberland®, Vans® and The North Face® brands, we are partnering with Terra Genesis International in Thailand to pilot the industry’s first regenerative rubber supply system. Regenerative rubber farming incorporates multiple tree species to mimic a natural forest ecosystem and uses indigenous farming techniques to diversify crop yields and provide multiple streams of income to the farming community.
- We are tapping into tools such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg MSI from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodologies to identify the greatest opportunities to reduce environmental impact. We are also exploring industry-leading ways to recycle and reuse available synthetic materials as well as crossover solutions, such as natural alternatives to traditional synthetics or recycled natural materials.
Traceability is a large component of our prioritization of people, product and planet. If you’re interested in learning more about our latest sustainability and responsibility report, you can read our summary here, and dive into the full report here. Check back in this space next week for a closer look at our community impact, and our goals to further push these boundaries in the coming year.