OP-ED: Why the Open Apparel Registry is a vital tool for untangling global supply chains

Fashion Roundtable, October 2020

"At its heart, the OAR exists to drive improvements in data quality for the benefit of all stakeholders in the apparel sector. As well as many other efficiency and process benefits, the way the OAR organizes and presents data ultimately improves the lives of some of the most vulnerable workers in global supply chains."

The concept for the OAR was developed in response to a specific set of needs within the apparel sector. Supply chains in the fashion industry are incredibly complex and opaque. This complexity creates a barrier to improving social and environmental conditions, both in terms of facilitating collaboration between different stakeholders in the sector, but also in terms of accountability. The aftermath of the tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 shone a light on how few brands were aware of where their products were being manufactured, let alone the conditions in which they were being made. In response to this, a growing trend has developed for supply chain disclosure in the apparel sector, spurred on by groups such as the Transparency Pledge coalition and Fashion Revolution.

However, in response to these calls for greater transparency, supply chain disclosure has been inconsistent, difficult to track from one website to another and data is often locked away in non-machine readable formats such as PDFs or tables embedded in websites. A lack of standard formatting for information as basic as name and address data (coupled with the poor quality of this data) makes it difficult and costly for anyone to compare across datasets and understand shared connections to facilities. Data has been stuck in silos and lacked a universal, central ID through which systems could synchronize, making interoperability between systems impossible. Brands and factory groups alike become frustrated with the multiple IDs connected to the same facility, used individually by each of the multiple MSIs in the sector. There was no resource or oversight to understand where brands or MSIs shared interests in the same facility.