Together with UNICEF, the world’s biggest wealth fund is setting up a network with some of the top fashion companies to improve children’s rights, whether they are exploited in the production of garments and shoes or impacted by the industry in other ways.
Between 10 and 15 companies with a total market value of more than 2tr kroner ($244bn) have joined and will participate in the network’s first event in Geneva on Nov. 27, said Carine Smith Ihenacho, the Norwegian investor’s global head of ownership strategies. They include Hennes & Mauritz AB; Kering, the owner of luxury brands such as Gucci and Saint Laurent; and VF Corp., which owns labels such as North Face and Wrangler.
Over the next two years, the group will discuss what can be done to improve the plight of children who often work in sweatshops under appalling conditions. The initiative will also focus on areas such as education, health and nutrition, from access to school to working mothers’ ability to breastfeed.
“Not enough is being done today,” Smith Ihenacho said in a recent interview at the Oslo office of Norges Bank Investment Management, a unit of the central bank which manages the fund. “We hope this will raise market practices for other companies as well. We hope this will have some kind of bellwether effect.”
The world got a shocking glimpse of how badly some textile workers are treated, following the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 people. The year before, fires at Pakistan sites also drew attention to the hardship such workers face. With production typically sub-contracted by global retailers to emerging-market nations, the complexity and the length of the supply chain make it hard to weed out practices such as child labor.
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