Nov 20, 2019
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Under pressure, Amazon reveals list of suppliers for private-label brands

Nov 20, 2019

Following the controversy that has raged over the last few weeks concerning the presence of products made by blacklisted factories on its platform, e-commerce giant Amazon made the list of manufacturers linked to its private-label brands public for the first time on November 15. The move is, according to NGOs, commendable but insufficiently detailed. 

The Drop is an Amazon private-label brand dedicated to limited drops of collections made in collaboration with influencers - Matthieu Guinebault/FNW

The publication of this list is no trivial matter, in as much as Amazon has recently become something of a brand factory, having launched more than 100 private labels in the fashion sector alone in the space of only five years, as previously reported on by FashionNetwork.com. The turnaround is all the more unexpected because, as late as October 24, John Boumphrey, VP for Amazon Fashion Europe, told FashionNetwork.com that he could not give any details about the regions in which the company's fashion products were manufactured – a position that he stuck to despite the "made in..." labels sewn into the clothes on display only a few meters away. 

Less than a month later, the company has released a document detailing the names, addresses, cities, regions and countries of its various suppliers, throwing all of the different sectors in which Amazon has operations in together. The list contains 505 companies based in China and 29 in Taiwan, as well as 168 Indian companies, 23 in Bangladesh and six in Pakistan. Other countries that appear in the document include Vietnam (55 suppliers), Japan (31), Sri Lanka (29), Indonesia (19), Thailand (14), Malaysia (13), the Philippines (13), South Korea (12), Cambodia (7) and Madagascar (4).

The list also features 102 U.S.-based companies and 12 Mexican manufacturers. On the other side of the Atlantic, companies are cited in the UK (10), Poland (9), Italy (4) and Turkey (11). In France, two foreign-owned paper companies are mentioned: Double A, an Alizay, Normandy-based subsidiary of the Thai company of the same name, and a subsidiary of its Italian competitor Sofidel, based in Frouard, near Nancy. 

A mixed reception

“The decision by Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, sends an unambiguous message that transparency is critically important and here to stay and grow,” commented Aruna Kashyap, senior women's rights counsel at Human Rights Watch (HRW) on November 20. “Brands that don’t publicly disclose their supply chains may not know where their products are made, making it harder to determine whether they are acting responsibly, and where the disclosure is not easily accessible, they make it difficult for workers to report labor abuses.”

Labels in products from Amazon private-label brands presented at the Amazon Beyond Denim event in Berlin this October - Matthieu Guinebault/FNW

However, the organization also leveled a series of criticisms at the list released by Amazon. The first problem highlighted by the NGO is perhaps the most evident: the absence of any mention of each manufacturer's field of operations, making it impossible to distinguish between a textile manufacturer, a cosmetics specialist and an electronics factory. On top of this, HRW has pointed out that although the list is available for consultation on Amazon's corporate website, it is in no way easy to find, an issue that is further compounded by the fact that the document's publication was not accompanied by any kind of announcement or press release from the company. 

To better understand Amazon's silence on the matter, it's important to view the list's publication within the context of the controversy stirred up by the article "Amazon sells clothes from factories other retailers blacklist" published by The Wall Street Journal on October 23. This piece claimed that the Amazon marketplace offered textile products manufactured by companies that feature on the blacklist of Bangladeshi factories drawn up following 2013's Rana Plaza disaster, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. In light of this incident, major international brands committed to removing the manufacturers on the list from their supply chains. 

Fashion is by far the sector in which Amazon has launched the most private-label brands - Gartner

Although Amazon says that it is engaged in daily efforts to combat the sale of counterfeit products on its platform, it is more difficult for the company to detect the presence of pieces made in these blacklisted factories. The e-commerce giant has, however, committed to removing these products if and when they are identified.

The Wall Street Journal was unable to link any of the products offered by Amazon's private-label brands to the blacklisted factories, but with a third of these brands dealing in textile products and the controversy gaining increasing visibility, the American e-tailer chose to take a preemptive step towards greater transparency. The move looks to have come just in time for Amazon to make up for some of the delay that it has accumulated in comparison to other brands operating in the fashion industry, a sector in which the company continues to insist it is not a competitor, despite its over 100 private-label fashion brands. Nevertheless, Nike has decided to put an end to its collaboration with the portal, where its products have struggled to stand out among a plethora of other labels.

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