From opaque to open: untangling apparel supply chains with open data
- 1. Open Apparel Registry
Historically, the apparel sector has been shrouded in secrecy and mystique, using this to generate an impression of exclusivity and glamour. As the tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013 showed (in which well over 1,000 workers died manufacturing clothing for many major western brands) the reality is anything but. The aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster shone a light on how few brands were aware of where their products were being manufactured, let alone the conditions in which they were being made. In response to this, a growing trend has developed for supply chain disclosure in the apparel sector, spurred on by groups such as the Transparency Pledge coalition and Fashion Revolution. However, in response to these calls for greater transparency, supply chain disclosure has been inconsistent, difficult to track from one website to another and data is often locked away in non-machine readable formats such as PDFs or tables embedded in websites. A lack of standard formatting for information as basic as name and address data (coupled with the poor quality of this data) makes it difficult and costly for anyone to compare across datasets and understand shared connections to facilities. Data has been stuck in silos and lacked a universal, central ID through which systems could synchronize, making interoperability between systems impossible. Enter the Open Apparel Registry (OAR). The OAR was launched in March 2019 to address this data challenge. At its heart, the OAR exists to drive improvements in data quality for the benefit of all stakeholders in the apparel sector. As well as many other efficiency and process benefits, the way the OAR organizes and presents data ultimately improves the lives of some of the most vulnerable workers in global supply chains. During this talk, we shared details about the challenges facing the apparel sector, including low levels of technical sophistication and understanding of open data; collaborative work that’s being done to educate the sector on the power of open data, including the launch of the Open Data Standard for the Apparel Sector (ODSAS); before finishing up with inspiring examples of how data from the Open Apparel Registry being freely shared and used is creating meaningful changes in the lives of some of global society’s most oppressed people.