Employee safety, workplace equity, and the protection of human rights – each are key components to determining a company’s commitment to ethical and responsible practices. But how exactly are businesses making sure that their supply chains are living up to these standards?
We sat down with German Reyes, Senior Manager of Social Compliance at Gildan, to learn more about the importance of having a sound social compliance framework and about the steps that Gildan takes to protect employees across its supply chain. Read as he shares his insights and discusses his career path working in this important field:
Can you tell me about your career path?
I began as an intern in social compliance almost 18 years ago, and ever since, I’ve spent the better part of my professional life working in Latin America and learning everything there is to know about social compliance.
It was back in 2010 that I started working at Gildan, where I was initially brought on to help align Gildan’s newly acquired vertically-integrated facilities in Bangladesh to the standards and practices of the Company’s Code of Conduct, and I found the prospect of doing that quite exciting.
Since then, my position has evolved immensely and I’ve been involved in many exciting projects: In 2018, I took on a global role focused on standardizing our Social Compliance Program across our worldwide contractors; and in 2019, I played a large part in Gildan’s Fair Labor Association (FLA) re-accreditation and am now responsible for the FLA Accreditation Program globally. I now guide an extremely talented team.
What led you to pursue a career in social compliance?
I’ve always been interested in human rights and safe working conditions – especially in this industry. Many times, we hear brands making big commitments surrounding ethical labour practices, but these commitments often paint a very different picture from the reality. That’s why, in my own career, I was interested in doing something where my job could help employees and ensure that they are treated fairly and working in safe environments. This has been my journey, and I believe that my life’s work has helped create positive impacts for workers across our supply chain.
How do social compliance measures support a healthy company culture overall?
Social compliance measures like audits are ongoing processes that work to standardize practices in each facility so that we can protect the health, safety, and rights of employees everywhere. But what’s important to note is that while the goals are the same at each facility, the path that gets us there can be quite different. For example, at Gildan, in order to translate and embed the principles of our Code of Conduct globally, we have to be aware of the local needs and cultures that exist in the regions where our facilities are located so that we understand the best approach for providing the necessary guidance. This is what social compliance measures like audits helps us achieve.
When you do an audit, how do you assess the mental and emotional well-being of employees?
One of the most important ways we can evaluate the emotional well-being of employees is through confidential one-on-one interviews. We ask them questions that range from how the facility’s management staff are performing to what their general experience is like in the workplace. Throughout these interviews, it’s very important to be empathetic, honest, and approachable. That way, it’s much easier for employees to open up and answer questions more honestly.
There are a few additional mechanisms we have in place here at Gildan that help with assessing how employees are doing mentally and emotionally. One important mechanism is to have a strong open-door policy so that anyone, at any time, without discomfort or fear of retaliation, can speak up about real or suspected misconduct. For example, we have suggestion boxes in our facilities and a confidential Ethics and Compliance Hotline with local toll-free numbers that are open 24/7 so that employees can safely and honestly reach out when there’s a problem.
What sorts of insights do these one-on-one interviews provide?
Having this sort of contact with employees allows us to understand what’s happening from a qualitative perspective so that we can guide the Company accordingly and give facility management more well-rounded feedback. The interview process helps us know whether or not employees are receiving the necessary training on topics ranging from the Company’s codes and policies, to how pay slips work. These trainings are extremely important because they help ensure that employees understand what their rights are.
Where do you think Gildan stands today in terms of its social compliance process?
I think our Social Compliance Program has greatly evolved over the years and has become one that is an industry leader. This comes from both the Company’s adoption of more innovative systems and the general ability for us to integrate new social compliance processes with the support of the leadership team.
What is your biggest hope for the future of social compliance in the apparel industry?
I’ll start by saying that social compliance in this industry is crucial: Beyond ensuring healthy and safe working conditions and protecting the rights of employees, social compliance is the link between ethics and business more broadly – two concepts which go hand-in-hand. My hope is that more companies will embed social compliance into their company strategy and start viewing it as a benefit to their business operations. By taking social compliance seriously, companies can better guide how they operate. Beyond that, when employees are treated right, they feel more committed to the Company and can actually contribute to it more effectively – something that is true across every level, position, and department of any company.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your position?
It makes me proud to be able to help people and support better working conditions, and it’s rewarding to see the positive changes that follow my visits to different factories. Employees often remember me and greet me when I come back to a facility, and they tell me about a time when I helped them through something in the past. To see them still working there all those years later makes me very happy!
Visit Gildan’s sustainability website to learn more about the Company’s commitment to caring for its employees.