EU’s ESG leadership sets tone for US fashion brands

Senior vice president of the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) programme Mark Jaeger tells Laura Husband US fashion brands are embracing ESG with the EU's direction setting standards and expectations.

Mark Jaeger spoke at a conference in Istanbul about buyers expectations when it comes to the ESG challenge. Credit: Just Style

While looking out towards Istanbul’s glowing ancient city from the other side of the Bosphorus Strait, WRAP’s Mark Jaeger confesses the EU’s leadership on Environmental, Social Governance (ESG) issues is proving helpful for the US fashion industry.

The social compliance and audit programme prides itself on having spent the last 20 years improving environmental and social conditions across the global fashion supply chain. However, given its headquarters are in the US, Jaeger is in a prime position to share the first-hand progress US companies in particular are making on ESG.

He says: “In the US companies are moving to have ESG,” and crucially, he adds: “We’re seeing more of an alignment and a movement than just a moment.”

During the International Apparel Federation’s ‘Realistic Road Ahead for the Greening of the Apparel Industry’ conference, which took place earlier that day, Jaeger shared that despite the US being behind on ESG legislation, leading US fashion brands and retailers are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to sustainability. 

He explained the US has specific enforceable laws such as against forced labour as opposed to big pieces of ESG legislation but added: “We should not be misunderstanding the situation – US fashion buyers are moving forward with ESG expectations for their supply chain.”

He also clarified that US-based fashion brands and retailers are taking inspiration from the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals that were put in place in 2015 and are on a path to 2030. 

US follows EU lead on improving ESG in fashion supply chain

While this shows the US sector is moving in the right direction, he points out his organisation is "really keen to reduce the costs of doing due diligence in supply chains".  

He continues: "Let’s assume you’re a fashion producer of apparel and want to supply to the EU and US market — you’ve got to meet minimum buyer expectations and often this includes following social and environmental rules.

Wrap gives you an audit and a third-party certification and if you’re non-compliant it will identify this and help you to mitigate it.

He highlights that suppliers have choices when it comes to certifications but "we can provide a strong reason as to why we’re best value".

Equally, the problem of audit fatigue is already a major problem for all fashion supply chain partners.

He asserts that fashion brands and buyers can do a better job in helping to reduce requirements on suppliers and WRAP has always fought for reducing audit fatigue.

"It's not a good outcome to see four or six certifications on the wall when one or two is sufficient. We advocate for selecting a few," he says.

What's next for WRAP?

WRAP is on a mission to increase the amount of suppliers that use its social and environmental audit programme, which is a criteria of 12 principles based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  

The company's 2025 plan is to have 5,000 facilities WRAP-certified as part of its wider goal to improve the safety, health and work environment of the supply chain. 

"We’re making progress and we’re averaging double-digit growth. That's a recognition that expert programmes like WRAP make good sense for brands and even in a difficult market there’s potential to grow so we’re bullish on meeting our goals and even if we're not right by our target then we'll be close to it," he shares. 

WRAP's recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Türkiye is consistent with this goal of expanding the number of facilities that are WRAP-certified.  

As Jaeger notes: "WRAP works with apparel and textile organisations around the world so we think we’re a good partner choice as we’re well known in the US and a lot of brands work with us."  

In terms of the biggest challenges facing suppliers right now, he'd argue it's the changes to the cyclical and order flow of the supply chain that was driven by the pandemic.  

His advice to fashion buyers and brands is to better understand consumer demand going forward and provide a more reliable flow for suppliers. He adds that at least letting suppliers know if they won’t be getting an order would be a good step.  

Finally, he shares while sipping his drink from the terrace of the Mandarin Oriental Bosporus restaurant, WRAP will remain focused on providing social compliance and quality auditors while providing value to all stakeholders, facilities and buyers.