Engaging Stakeholders Working together for greater change
Advancing progress on issues such as water access, climate change, women’s empowerment, and safe and fair working conditions demands collaboration and jointly developed solutions. These issues are systemic, complex and intertwined and cannot be solved by any one organization alone.
Engaging stakeholders and establishing partnerships is a critical part of our sustainability strategy.
Engaging stakeholders and establishing partnerships is a critical part of our sustainability strategy. We work with diverse groups of experts and organizations to foster clearer understanding of complex issues, as well as local conditions in the countries where we do business. As conditions and challenges evolve in our industry, these dialogues give us insights to improve our programs and refine our strategies. The dialogues also reveal unexplored issues, scale industry solutions and encourage us to expand our ambitions.
We have many key stakeholders: the people who make our clothes, our customers, suppliers and factories, employees, unions, governments, multilateral institutions, NGOs, industry associations, investors, communities and others. We also belong to a number of organizations that enable us to more effectively collaborate with and learn from stakeholders. Multi-stakeholder initiatives bring together organizations and people from different sectors that play a key role in finding new approaches and creating collective action. To see a list of organizations and initiatives that we belong to or partner with, click here.
To create the change we’re after, we can’t do this work alone. We partner with organizations large and small to make this work happen. The United Nations is one of them. For years, we’ve supported the UN Global Compact and its guiding principles.
Our latest collaborations take an innovative approach to our industry's challenges. In 2016, we formed the five-year Women + Water Global Development Alliance with the United States Agency for International Development. Through this five-year program, we are working to improve and sustain the health and well-being of women and communities touched by the apparel industry—with an emphasis on access to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as the effective management of water resources. Alliance partners are applying a systemic, gender-sensitive and flexible approach to maximize progress on our shared goals.
We are also collaborating on solutions that matter most to workers and our suppliers' facilities. For example, with the ILO's Better Work program, we have developed Gap Inc.’s Workplace Cooperation Program, which gives workers and management the skills they need to resolve workplace issues, engage in respectful collaboration and drive continuous improvement in the workplace. Through other partnerships, we developed our Workforce Engagement Program to measure and improve the degree to which garment workers feel valued and engaged at work.
We recognize that our programs focused on improving labor standards in our supply chain require stakeholder input and engagement if they are going to achieve their intended outcomes. For that reason, we regularly partner – both formally and informally – with a broad set of stakeholders to help us ensure we are maximizing the potential of our impact. Having operated a variety of factory-focused programs in the 25 years since our Global Sustainability department was established, we have established a comprehensive network of stakeholders that we rely on for insight, guidance, and accountability.
These stakeholders range from local trade unions in the countries from which we source, to international NGOs and multi-lateral institutions, each with their own area of expertise and focus. Within this diverse group, our approaches and practices are not always agreed upon, but we remain open and willing to work with any entity provided it will help us achieve our objectives of improving worker well-being, working conditions, and the overall social performance of our suppliers’ factories. Key constituencies we regularly partner with include:
- Local NGOs and trade unions in the countries from which we source, with whom our Supplier Sustainability team regularly checks in with, particularly when we identify complex labor-related issues in a particular factory
- Suppliers themselves, who are ultimately the employers of the garment workers in our supply chain, and without whom we cannot achieve our ambitious sustainability goals - International NGOs and trade unions, who help us evolve and improve our policies and practices related to labor and human rights
- Multi-lateral institutions, development agencies and governments, whose policies and investments can have a material impact on working conditions within our supply chain
Our approach to working with stakeholders is informed both by a proactive engagement strategy, and by a reactive ethos of us believing it is important to respond to any inquiry that is of relevance to conduct within our supply chain. Our Global Partnerships team, which, along with our Supplier Sustainability team, is responsible for management and implementation of our stakeholder engagement strategy, is in regular dialogue with expert labor and human rights organizations in the world. At the local level, through engaging with community-based organizations, NGOs, and trade unions, our Supplier Sustainability team is able to gather helpful insight into factories employment practices and working conditions, which can help augment the findings we gather through the assessments, trainings, and surveys that we conduct at our suppliers’ facilities around the world. These networks and the issues they surface are one of the primary inputs into how we evolve and improve our programs focused on catalyzing improvements in labor standards and working conditions.
When issues arise, we seek to work with suppliers, unions, worker-representative organizations, and local and international NGOs that have expertise and connections in the that area. Our aim is to prioritize the impact of affected parties and come to a resolution that is fair and ethical given the events that transpired. We take what we learn from these experiences to improve our processes and protocols in responding to future issues, and we seek to partner with other buyers, governments, and other stakeholders in so that these lessons can be applied more broadly.
With over two decades of experience in engaging stakeholders, we know that there is no single formula for the frequency or mode of engagement that we pursue. In some cases, we schedule regular meetings and calls, to ensure we are systematically capturing and responding to their feedback. In other instances, our dialogue and engagement is on an as-needed basis; when issues arise, we will either bring those issues to their attention, or they will bring them to ours.
Looking forward, we will continue to engage our stakeholders and partners in taking a proactive, systemic approach that addresses root causes and accounts for more of the people and organizations who may be affected by an issue.