Using Track and Trace Technologies to Achieve Ethical Sourcing

  • Written by Peter Needle
  • Published on 26 September 2019
  • Our Voice

Tracking technologies can enable garment manufacturers and retailers to determine the location of any object within their supply chain, alongside a wealth of other information. But why is this depth of knowledge so essential to the running of a sustainable supply chain?

We’ve taken a look at where modern day slavery still exists in the global garment industry, and why ethical clothing brands must achieve visibility over their entire production line, however complex.

Cottoning on to ethical sourcing

The Uzbekistan cotton industry is the latest horror story for ethical companies in the garment industry. Firstly, the annual harvest in Uzbekistan means temporary modern day slavery for citizens, as hundreds of thousands of individuals are sent to the fields to hand-pick the cotton.

On top of this, 25,000 miles of the Aral Sea, once home to many species of sea life and the life force of various fishing communities, is now dead and exposed sea bed according to NASA. Aggressive irrigation across surrounding agricultural land has sapped water from the lake and caused pollution concerns by releasing harmful pesticides from the sea bed.

Supply chain visibility

Over 150 fashion retailers have taken the cotton pledge, committing to “not knowingly source Uzbek cotton for the manufacturing of any of our products until the Government of Uzbekistan ends the practice of forced child and adult labor in its cotton sector.” This readiness to pursue ethical sourcing standards is a positive force within the fashion industry – but only if it can be backed up by action.

It is ventured that a majority of the Uzbek cotton crop finds its way to Bangladesh and China, where flourishing garment industries are home to suppliers for European high street brands. Unethical sourcing could potentially be eliminated from the global garment industry if fashion brands join together to demand higher standards from their suppliers, and ensure their compliance through track and trace monitoring and supply chain audits.

Track and trace technologies

Traditionally used within delivery services, track and trace systems could also be adapted for garment retailers and manufacturers to monitor suppliers in the supply chain. The ability to track and trace individual components of a garment allows a retailer to recognize exactly how and where their products have been sourced, which is essential for any sustainable supply chain.

Garment retailers and manufacturers can run time-intensive manual track and trace procedures, relying on paper invoices and dispatch notes, but it is near impossible to utilize this gathered information to its best effect.

Current track and trace IT solutions include:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS), which uses satellite tracking to trace the position of goods in real time.
  • Barcodes, which can be used for work-in-process (WIP) tracking of raw materials, processed goods in different stages and finished goods, and postal or retail applications.
  • Radio frequency identification (RFID), which uses readers (encoders) to collect information from RFID tags at a distance and feed it into an information system. RFID tracking can provide higher volume, better quality information at a greater distance than possible with barcodes.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) may represent the future of trace and tracking technologies, with various sensors and readers able to communicate with one another, exchanging information independently.

Track and trace processes enable garment retailers and manufacturers to meet any ecological, social or quality standards they have set in place. By monitoring individual elements throughout the supply chain at each stage of the production process, each building block used in a garment’s production (such as the fabric, thread, labels and buttons) can tracked from the supplier to the finished product on shop floors.

Segura’s supply chain technology can enable garment retailers to gain complete visibility over all garment packaging and trim orders, providing a comprehensive framework to keep track of these building blocks throughout the production supply chain.

 

Originally published 14/10/2014

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