Why the WRAP Apparel Certification Program is Special
Apparel producers are accountable for their global production practices to consumers, retailers, governments, and others. Several organizations are dedicated to setting manufacturing standards, particularly regarding human rights. WRAP is unique among apparently similar organizations because it combines all of the following important attributes.
Market-driven, High Standards
Consumers and retailers ultimately drive manufacturing, but from the factories’ immediate perspective, the market for their products consists of the companies that source apparel and footwear. Increasingly, factories will be obliged to heed requests of companies requiring compliance with WRAP principles and procedures. The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), whose members produce 85% of sewn products sold at wholesale in the United States, gave birth to the idea of WRAP in 1998 and promotes it to this day. Other major international business and industry associations have endorsed not only WRAP’s principles but also its Apparel Certification Program, which is the world’s largest independent program.
Independent from the Industry
In its governance and finances, WRAP is independent of the industrial sectors for which it offers factory certification programs. Since its incorporation in 2000, its charter mandates that the majority of its Board members be from non-industry professions. Representatives from varied industries bring a needed perspective to the Board since the purpose of WRAP is to make progress in the workplaces of their industries. However, the Board members drawn from academia, civil society, and other arenas can and do occasionally outvote them. WRAP is not a membership association to which companies or licensers, such as universities, pay (often substantial) dues. Factories pay WRAP an application fee. Monitors pay WRAP an annual registration fee for each country in which they seek WRAP accreditation. Each factory then negotiates an inspection fee with the accredited monitor of its choice—WRAP does not set these fees nor benefit from them.
WRAP certifies individual factories, many of which are small or medium businesses contracted (or subcontracted) by brand managers or retailers. The certification is not for the brand and not for the company that owns it. Factory certification, on the other hand, places responsibility for improving workplace conditions squarely on the shoulders of those who own and operate a specific facility.
A side benefit of factory-based certification is that it eliminates costly and time-consuming duplication of monitoring efforts. WRAP’s raison d’être is to provide a standard against which factories are measured regarding their treatment of workers, the natural environment, and other concerns. Before WRAP was established, a factory manager needed to invest several workdays and thousands of dollars to comply with audits (usually limited to human rights) demanded by public interest groups. Some factories undergo seven or eight audits a year. A WRAP certification now replaces many of these audits as more and more major brand managers and retailers are accepting it as they would their own. (WRAP’s goal is to make its program the one audit that all parties feel confident in adopting.) This results in savings of time and money for the factory, lower prices for the consumer, more business for the factories, and increased and better job conditions for the workers. On the other hand, WRAP places great demands on the manufacturers. As mentioned above, they need to comply not only with general principles, but also with detailed procedures and record keeping.
An independent organization that respects the private sector and defends workers and the environment according to high standards, WRAP has accepted applications from over 1,400 factories (belonging to some 700 manufacturers) and has certified approximately 600 facilities as complying with its 12 principles and its detailed manual of procedures (data from January, 2004).
Recognizing the potential for individual manufacturers to adopt inconsistent standards and to duplicate monitoring, several prominent apparel producers approached the American Apparel Manufacturers Association to coordinate the industry’s role in addressing these issues. (In August 2000, the AAMA merged with the Footwear Industries of America and The Fashion Association to become the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the fashion association. The AAFA is the largest and most representative sewn products trade association in the United States with over 700 member companies, including Sara Lee Corporation, Jockey International, VF Corporation, Russell Corporation, OshKosh B'Gosh, Tropical Sportswear International, and Gerber Childrenswear. AAFA members produce more than 85% of sewn products sold at wholesale in the U.S.) In 1998, the industry began an initiative to demonstrate its commitment to responsible business practices and to ensure that apparel is produced under lawful, humane and ethical conditions. It reached beyond the apparel manufacturers and brand managers to retailers, human rights advocates, public interest organizations, development agencies, and the licensing community. The first result was the twelve Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production Principles -- standards of labor practices, factory conditions, and environmental and customs compliance. The AAMA Board of Directors publicly endorsed them in 1998. For the next two years, the Association worked with the above stakeholders to design a process and develop an organization to monitor and certify factories for compliance—in hundreds of details—with the principles. The fruit of this work was the incorporation of WRAP in 2000 as a "501 [c] 6" organization.