A group of some of the world's biggest sports and outdoor brands, along with retailers, NGOs and industry groups, have launched the Social and Labor Convergence Project, a collaborative initiative aimed at developing a standardized methodology for social and labor performance assessment in the global apparel and footwear manufacturing sector.

Among the participating apparel brands and retailers, this new industry effort involves Nike, Puma, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, Timberland, H&M, REI, Levi Strauss & Co., PVH Corp. and Target. Other members of the coalition include W.L. Gore & Associates Fabric division, the European Outdoor Group, the International Apparel Federation, and the auditing services Bureau Veritas, Control Union and SGS. The signatories, currently more than two dozen organizations, issued a public statement in Amsterdam on the purposes of the initiative on Oct. 21.

The project is backed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which has committed to facilitate it in an equal partnership approach by bringing together all the relevant stakeholders of the value chain, and by working with other multi-stakeholder initiatives that have developed assessment methods and tools.

In practical terms, the project seeks to start a dialogue that will enable the industry to enhance transparency, reduce the number of social and labor assessments in the apparel sector, shift financial resources from assessment to performance improvement, and enhance the social impacts within apparel and footwear manufacturing countries.

The birth of ethical sourcing in the supply chain more than 20 years ago brought about a proliferation of codes, protocols and approaches as part of company efforts. For the participants in this new initiative, the convergence of assessment tools will considerably reduce the cost of duplicated auditing. The time and money saved will be redirected to improving the working conditions of the millions of people employed in the apparel and footwear manufacturing sector.