Human Rights Day: Why People Are Our First Priority
On December 10th the international community observes Human Rights Day. This is a day when businesses and organizations around the world celebrate and build upon the UN General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights to promote equality, peace, justice, freedom and the protection of human dignity. In alignment with the UN 2030 Agenda, this year’s theme is “Equality,” a topic that is closely aligned with the work we do daily at VF Corporation.
We recognize people come first. We are committed to the continuous improvement of conditions and opportunities for everyone connected to our business operations and supply chain worldwide. In fact, our recently-released Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action (IDEA) Annual Profile and sustainability and responsibility report document our proactive efforts to drive this improvement globally.
In recognition of International Human Rights Day, we want to share the commitments and standards that VF Corporation has put in place to ensure all those who help make our products are our first priority.
Foundational to our Human Rights Commitment, we formalized our dedication to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) to ensure VF practices are aligned with global standards. Last year we elevated our ambitions on human rights and joined the UN Global Compact and endorsed the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles. Since then, we have been focused on aligning our business with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption through the UN Global Compact to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals and meet our commitment to people and planet.
We are focused on identifying opportunities for our company to show up and drive meaningful change for our associates, consumers and communities in the face of injustices. At the same time, we are committed to further strengthening our culture of belonging, allyship and advocacy. While this has been another challenging year given the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations and communities, VF is proud to share some of the advancements we have made on upholding human rights.
We regularly conduct corporate-wide assessments to identify human rights touchpoints throughout our global supply chain, including fair wages, overtime, discrimination, women’s rights, and freedom of association. VF then evaluates the saliency of these touchpoints based on the scale of impact, the scope of individuals affected and the remediability of issues if they occur. These findings provide direction to our human rights commitments and our efforts to prevent, mitigate and remediate adverse human rights impacts in our value chain. We took our efforts even further, and through our close work with human rights organizations including the United Nations, International Labor Organization, Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development and along with the needs assessments, identified the areas where we can have an even greater impact:
- Women’s Rights: Women make up approximately 80% of the global apparel workforce. Central to our women’s rights initiative is an elevated dedication to eliminating gender-based violence. VF upholds workplace safety first to achieve other workplace priorities including eliminating discrimination, promoting equality, female leadership and expanded childcare initiatives. VF is committed to supporting women in our supply chain by collaborating with our contract factories to prioritize career-progression opportunities and technical skills training, enabling them to take on supervisory roles in the factories.
After endorsing the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), VF committed to advance on each WEPs principle. Going forward, in-scope supplier factories will be required to implement GBVH violence prevention and reporting mechanisms by 2025 and have gender proportional workplace committees by 2030. The VF Foundation has invested $250k in The Resilience Fund for Women in Global Value Chains which aims to catalyze a new era of corporate investment and philanthropy—through pooled funding, democratized processes, and women-led change.
We are proud that this work has been recognized by external groups, including the World Benchmarking Alliance’s inaugural Gender Benchmark (VF tied for first place), and inclusion in the Forbes list of the World’s Top Female Friendly Companies 2021.
- Children’s Rights: Many mothers cannot feel empowered if their children aren’t fed or clothed or safe. We are ardent advocates for children’s rights and the elimination of child labor in the global apparel supply chain. We believe that children belong in school and we work to create access to education that helps break the cycle of poverty as part of our Worker & Community Development (WCD) program. Partnering with organizations such as the Centre for Child Rights and Business and UNICEF, VF works to enhance policies related to the prevention of child labor. We created a Child Rights Action Pledge to strengthen the protection of children’s rights and integrate the Children’s Rights and Business Principles in our business to maximize positive contributions and minimize negative impacts on children. Read our Child Rights Commitment here.
Through our WCD program, we focus on provision of childcare within our child rights efforts. We have participated in the WeCare program in partnership with The Centre for Child Rights and Business for three years now, and in this year’s WeCare program in China, four of our contract factories had set up a child friendly space on-site during the summer months. With free childcare provided onsite, migrant parents were able to bring their children to live with them during the summer. Additionally, the factories enrolled in the WeCare project have the option to give workers training on migrant parenting, including how to better communicate and stay in touch with your children when living apart.
- Health and Safety: Keeping people in our supply chain safe is non-negotiable. We are committed to zero loss of life or harm to health as a result of our extended operations and we’re collaborating with industry peers, social enterprises and workers to build better health and safety standards across our supply chain. VF is a co-founder of the Life Building and Safety (LABS) initiative, which works to improve worker safety by identifying and remediating the most pressing risks in supplier factories. As of FY2020, the LABS initiative has reached 95,000+ workers in the VF supply chain.
One of the most important aspects of health and safety is that workers have access to potable water. The World Health Organization reports that 1 in 3 people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water. In addition, more than 7 billion people do not have safe sanitation services and basic handwashing facilities. Many of these people live and work in areas where VF products are manufactured. VF’s WCD program partnered with WaterAid Cambodia and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) to bring safe drinking water and sanitation to rural communities near VF manufacturing hubs in Cambodia and Bangladesh. We also continued the partnership with WaterAid in late 2021 to support the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Cambodia and with WSUP to support COVID-19 vaccine registration and awareness raising in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
- Migrant workers: VF has an increased focus on upholding migrant workers’ rights in garment and footwear supply chains. We have partnered with the IOM and we are strengthening migrant worker rights in Jordan, Taiwan and Thailand by improving workers’ access to responsible recruitment channels. VF’s ‘Your Voice Matters’ program, a key component of this focus, launched digital tools that measure the program’s impact on workers by leveraging remote impact assessments and a digital training platform. The program features online training modules in local languages and testing to support awareness of prevalent worker rights issues. More than 4,000 workers participated in this program.
- Adequate Standard of Living: VF believes every worker has a right to compensation for a regular work week that meets the worker and their family’s basic needs and provides some discretionary income. We are currently undertaking a wage assessment in every country where a VF associate resides. This will enable us to better understand gaps at the local level, thereby creating a path to incrementally closing identified gaps so that workers can better support themselves and their families. Read our Living Wage Statement here.
We’re proud of the work we have done to drive access to human rights worldwide and we’re committed to remaining a part of the effort to improve Human Rights. Today on International Human Rights Day, and every day, VF Corporation is committed to respecting human rights and fighting for equality as it is central to our corporate purpose of powering movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet.