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The Global Apparel Industry Hopes a New Tool Can Eliminate “Audit Fatigue”

By Leon Kaye

This week, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) released an update to the Higg Index, the global apparel industry’s standard to assess environmental and social sustainability across the sector’s entire value chain.

Registration is now open for the new Higg Facility Environmental Module (Higg FEM), a self-assessment tool that seeks to standardize sustainability measurements for apparel, footwear, and textile mills. One goal of the Higg FEM is to allow garment factories of any size worldwide to assess their overall sustainability performance and share the results seamlessly with their supply chain partners.

In addition, the SAC is touting this tool as a way to combat “audit fatigue,” long the bane of many garment companies’ suppliers, which frequently operate on thin margins. While stakeholders in the garment sector agree audits are needed on just about everything from environmental performance to child labor, compliance can often be an overwhelming task – to the point where a garment manufacturer could be tempted to cut corners, resulting in anything from human rights violations to environmental degradation.

To that end, the SAC is optimistic that the Higg FEM can help companies within every tier of a company’s supply chain perform better by minimizing their operations’ environmental impact – and even save money and strengthen relationships with their customers in the meantime. SAC says this platform is used by over 8,000 businesses worldwide, and will become even more efficient by how it monitors water consumption, waste, emissions, and the management of chemicals.

Some companies have been quick to buy into this updated auditing system.

“Six years ago, we adopted the Higg Facility Environmental Module protocol, enabling Target to take a more unified approach to measuring our environmental performance,” said Ivanka Mamic, senior director of responsible sourcing at Target in an emailed statement. “The Higg FEM provides tremendous value by creating an industry standard and identifying opportunities where suppliers can operate more efficiently, meaning companies like Target can focus on reducing impact in the communities where we operate.”

The SAC is pinning its hopes that wider adoption of the Higg FEM will help transform the apparel industry into a more accountable and sustainable one. Through a campaign it calls Link by Link, the SAC is urging its 200-plus members to implement the tool globally, with the aim to target 20,000 facilities and 400 brands online with the new version of Higg FEM by the end of next year.

Current members of the SAC include Adidas, C&A, Columbia, Eileen Fisher, Gap Inc., H&M, Levi’s, Nordstrom, Patagonia, Puma, Under Armour, Walmart and Zappos.

Image credit: World Bank/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye