In conversation with...Open Apparel Registry
Open Apparel Registry is a long-term partner of Laudes Foundation, and we are thrilled to announce a further five years of partnership with 2.3m EUR core support grant towards the OAR’s five-year strategy. Three years ago the OAR was only an idea, and Laudes Foundation, at the time, C&A Foundation, was the sole funder of a one-year proof of concept grant. Today the OAR is an independent organisation with a strong multi-stakeholder board, valued by hundreds of users, and is beginning to diversify its funding sources. Sarah Ong, Senior Programme Manager, Labour Rights at Laudes Foundation explained: “With the transparency eco-system the OAR plays a critical role in making disclosed data useful and reusable. Without OAR the increasing body of transparent data on apparel supply chains would remain locked away in difficult to access and compare disclosures, limiting its usefulness for improvements across the apparel industry. OAR has proven that it’s able to win the trust of data disclosers and users across the industry, and we’re delighted to continue our partnership”. Sarah sat down to chat with Natalie Grillon, Executive Director and Katie Shaw, COO of the Open Apparel Registry to discuss the journey so far and what the future holds.
Can you start by telling us what Open Apparel Registry’s vision and theory of change and why you believe this matters for the apparel industry?
Natalie: At its heart, the OAR exists to drive improvements in data quality for the benefit of all stakeholders in the apparel sector. We’ve begun with a razorlike focus on two key data points: facility name and address. At a basic level, if there’s no shared understanding of where garments are being made, how can there be any sense of the environmental or social conditions at those facilities?
Our ultimate vision is that every apparel facility globally will be mapped and the industry can make use of its OAR ID, as an open id for all stakeholders in industry to share information and collaborate across systems.
The majority of global apparel facilities are in the database and assigned a unique OAR ID
AND facilities have been contributed by multiple stakeholders from across industry, such that the OAR ID becomes the industry standard and is perceived as a neutral tool
AND data is current, accurate, online, in a machine-readable format, with an open license
The OAR ID will enable interoperability and accountability across industry and facilitate collaborations which improve conditions in facilities worldwide.
What are you most proud about OAR? Could you share some specific examples about how OAR is used?
Katie: we’re proud of the community that we’ve built around the Open Apparel Registry and the speed with which people began to make use of our data to improve conditions for those working in apparel supply chains.
We’re fortunate that our engaged and supportive community shares stories with us of how the tool is making a difference in their daily work. The benefits vary enormously depending on what role an organisation has within the sector, but the way we organise and present data on the OAR ultimately improves the lives of some of the most vulnerable workers in global supply chains.
A recent example is how our data has been used during the COVID-19 pandemic by WageIndicator. By cross-checking against OAR Contributor data for the facilities surveyed in WageIndicator's COVID-19 Impact Survey, the organisation was able to work on comparative studies looking at whether facilities that produce for global brands have changed conditions during the pandemic. By working with WageIndicator using OAR data, trade unions in 42 different factories were able to advocate for the rights of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two of our values at Laudes Foundation are conviction and courage, which are both essential in starting a new organization. What kept you going through the challenging times?
Natalie: we’ve always had a strong belief in the power of the OAR to catalyze change in the apparel sector, which provided us with the motivation to persevere during some challenging times. We’re a small, close-knit team, too - knowing that someone’s got your back gives you the courage to stand your ground during bumpy patches.
If you could go back in time and tell yourself at the beginning of the OAR journey three lessons you’ve learned what would they be?
- Change takes time, but we need to work together to thoughtfully speed up progress to address the pressing issues the world is currently facing. I can be impatient at times in my eagerness to see results, so this remains an almost daily lesson for me!
- Neutrality is key to winning the trust of an entire sector. For the OAR to be successful, it has to be useful for all stakeholders in the sector, so approaching the work from a neutral standpoint has been crucial to growing the reach and influence of the tool.
- The OAR community will be your greatest asset, not just as users of the tool, but as thought partners. Some of our best feature and development ideas come from our community, which is exactly the way it should be.
OAR is now one of our largest, and longest-running grants. What tips would you give to organisations who are considering partnering with Laudes?
Natalie: Laudes is a great thought partner. I co-created the concept for the Open Apparel Registry in partnership with Laudes and our former technical partner, and the input from Laudes was invaluable. For any organisation fortunate enough to be awarded a grant by Laudes Foundation, I’d encourage them to tap into the additional support offered by Laudes, including its relationships - it’s an extremely partner focused organisation, particularly within the apparel sector.
What’s next for OAR, what are you excited about for the future?
Katie: To date, the majority of the OAR's users and contributors have come from Europe & the UK, and north America. We're eager to grow the reach of the OAR, particularly in production countries, so will be working throughout the year to translate core OAR materials into other languages, as well as hiring in-country Community Managers. We'll also be launching an Ambassador programme later this year - keep an eye out for updates!
Ultimately, we aim to see every apparel facility globally – including subcontractors – mapped in the OAR, each allocated its own ID. Our goal is for the OAR ID to be used as the “central source of truth” in industry which, in turn, will enable collaboration and facilitate supply chain improvements.
Beyond that, we’re excited about the possibilities for trend analysis looking at how supply chains change over time and what other datasets could be incorporated into the tool, including environmental data and more. Other industries are interested in our approach, too.