Prior to coming to Stern, I was the program manager for sustainability initiatives for International Paper, one of the world’s largest pulp and paper manufacturing companies with operations on five continents. During my time with International Paper, I worked with local communities on environmental concerns but never dove into the critical human rights issues that international businesses face today.
So when I came to Stern, I was hungry for that experience. I wanted to learn how businesses could adapt to respect the rights of people, and often the most vulnerable people, around the world.
The Fellowship offered through the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights provided a gateway to that experience. Through my Fellowship I spent my summer at PVH Corp, one of the world’s largest apparel companies. PVH has a dedicated team of about sixty people working to ensure that the company has a fair and transparent supply chain. The company has been paying attention to human rights issues for decades, but since the collapse of Rana Plaza, a factory in Bangladesh supplying clothes to many leading brands, PVH has taken a leadership role in spearheading partnerships among various stakeholders who are dedicated to shining a light on conditions in factories. PVH is also constantly growing its own auditing program, and commits to auditing every one of its 1,200 factories about once every year. Their supply chain is truly global, with operations in fifty countries providing goods for several brands and under many types of production and licensing contracts.
It was this type of supply chain that I was looking to learn about, and understand where real issues of sustainability and human rights come into play, when I came to Stern.
The Center for Business and Human Rights’ partnership with the US Council for International Business (USCIB) proved invaluable throughout the summer. As soon as the Fellowship began, the Fellows began a training series featuring guest speakers that operate at the forefront of business and human rights. Through introduction to the founder of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, we learned about the efforts of researchers and journalists who are committed to increasing transparency and accountability about human rights risks to businesses. We were able to hear from leading shareholder activists that attempt to change company actions through shareholder resolutions, one of the most effective ways to educate business leadership and encourage action.
Through these training sessions and many others, the Fellowship filled gaps in my previous learning on human rights in business and helped me become a contributing member of the PVH Corporate Responsibility team.
At PVH this summer, I was able to address issues that will be a large part of the company’s dialogue moving forward. I looked at issues around ethical cotton sourcing, stakeholder engagement, and ensuring that workers in the supply chain are able to live productive and healthy lives. I was able to take a detailed look at PVH’s factory auditing program and provide recommendations about ways to closely align with the supply chain vision held by NGOs such as the Fair Labor Association. My Fellowship provided the experience that I had been looking for: a look into the details of how international supply chains specifically impact people in many different companies around the world, and what it takes to manage this supply chain.
As the world’s largest businesses become more and more global in operations and scope, all companies will view human rights as not only a major risk to manage, but as an opportunity for competitive advantage. Supply chains form the backbone of global companies, and ensuring that a supply chain is healthy, thriving, and contributing significant added value will be the only way that large businesses can compete.
My Fellowship helped me to appreciate how difficult this can be. Understanding the details of how people work in a wide range of countries, what keeps them coming back to work, and why they feel inspired to produce a quality product will become increasingly important but is difficult to standardize. The skills that I learned this past summer around the various forces at play in the human rights space will help me navigate this challenge as I graduate from Stern and continue to work on strengthening global supply chains.