New Book by Colorado State University Professor Examines Social Responsibility in the Apparel Industry

"Social Responsibility in the Global Apparel Industry," a new book co-authored by Molly Eckman of Colorado State University, Marsha Dickson of the University of Delaware and Suzanne Loker of Cornell University, examines labor practices and standards in the apparel industry and what manufacturers are doing to improve conditions for thousands of workers around the world.

"This is a book we wish was unnecessary to write," say the authors in the book’s preface. "But this book is necessary to write. Unsafe factory conditions, long hours, inadequate pay and use of toxic chemicals are not isolated incidents but widespread, systemic problems throughout the global apparel industry."

Published by Fairchild Books of New York, the book provides insight on how leading apparel and footwear manufacturers and retailers approach and attempt to maintain social responsibility in the design, production and sourcing of their products and in business operations. While the general tone of the book is positive and highlights the innovative actions and best practices of leaders in social responsibility, readers will also gain insight about unresolved issues.

The authors introduce various supply chain stakeholders, what they demand and how they have influenced the industry’s movement toward greater social responsibility. They highlight trends in global production and sourcing and introduce how environmental concerns important to the industry are being addressed.

"We want students who are our future executives in the apparel industry to understand the challenges they will face," said Eckman, a professor in the Department of Design and Merchandising in the College of Applied Human Sciences. "The problems associated with achieving improved labor standards and working conditions are extremely complex including such issues as child labor, factory health and safety and excessive work hours. We also wanted to highlight some of the ways companies are meeting these challenges."

To the write the book, the authors made dozens of factory visits to countries around the world, including China, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. They also conducted numerous interviews with individuals who work for multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations and labor groups, and factory management in the U.S. and offshore. They analyzed a large number of research articles, corporate and non-government organization reports and editorial and news reports from the international press.

In addition, Dickson participated in the decision-making and leadership of the Fair Labor Association, which focuses on improving labor conditions in apparel and footwear factories.

"Addressing the social and environmental impacts of supply chains has never been more important to successful companies," said Doug Cahn, a corporate responsibility veteran and principal of The Cahn Group, LLC. "Social Responsibility in the Global Apparel Industry provides the historical context and practical insights necessary for practitioners and students alike."

The book will find multiple uses by instructors in the apparel field, either as a primary text for courses focused on social responsibility or as a supplemental text for courses examining current topics in the industry.

The authors hope that educators from other disciplines like business, sociology, women’s studies or international economics may also find the book useful and could use it as an industry sector case study when examining issues in business and society, globalization and international development. They also hope it will find wide readership in the apparel industry as a reference and guide to those who are interested in advancing social responsibility in their businesses and even among those in other industries with similar complex global supply chains, such as toys and electronics.

Marcela Manubens, senior vice president of global human rights and social responsibility for Phillips-van Heusen, agrees that members of the apparel industry will benefit from reading "Social Responsibility in the Global Apparel Industry."

"The book illustrates the evolution of the field of social responsibility and its complexity in the apparel industry and allows the reader to understand today’s real challenges. As an educator and practitioner, I believe this is a very informative tool," Manubens said.