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"Because we have long-term relationships with our suppliers, they have an incentive to take care of problems. "I've come to realize that we are unusual in the industry," says Luna. "Many brands shift suppliers all the time."


By Claire Whitcomb

Our Human Rights Leader stays in touch, literally, with the many people who make our clothing.

Growing up in Malaysia, Luna Lee didn't raise her hand in class. "If you asked questions, you were considered the dumb one," she explains. "We had an expression, 'the empty can makes the most noise.'" Since joining our Social Consciousness Team in 2010, Luna has been making up for lost time, traveling the world asking a lot of questions, often in her native Mandarin.

She partners with Amy Hall, director of Social Consciousness, to keep track of human rights issues at the factories that make our clothes—10 in China, one in India, three in New York and others scattered around the globe. The goal: making sure that real life conditions meet the comprehensive workplace standards that we follow, SAI's SA8000 and ETI's Base Code.

"Because we have long-term relationships with our suppliers, they have an incentive to take care of problems. "I've come to realize that we are unusual in the industry," says Luna. "Many brands shift suppliers all the time."

Luna and Amy don't do this by themselves, of course. Third-party auditors— firms are changed every few years to keep the process rigorous—take a magnifying glass to our factories. "They report on everything from small issues, maybe an incomplete first aid kit, to red flags such as excessive overtime," Luna says. "We go back to our factories with a corrective action plan." Because we have long-term relationships with our suppliers, they have an incentive to take care of problems. "I've come to realize that we are unusual in the industry," says Luna. "Many brands shift suppliers all the time."

While audits are a necessity, Luna and team are always looking for ways to dig deeper and go beyond the pro forma. "An audit gives you a snapshot," she says. "It's a really valuable snapshot. But when I leave a factory, I always wonder: What are the workers saying to each other at lunch, in the dorms, on walks in the park? What do they really need and how can we help?"

Factory rights, from the ground up
It's one thing to formulate strict human rights standards, it's quite another to train workers so they are empowered to exercise those rights if they are in a vulnerable situation. Can you say no to excessive overtime? What will happen if you report an unwanted sexual advance?

In 2002, we started working with Verité, a nonprofit specializing in human rights, to hold workshops for workers at three China factories. "The first year was rocky," says Amy. "Managers were highly skeptical about letting Verité into their factories. Appointments were made and cancelled repeatedly. But once the trainings began, the workers began asking for them and we instituted separate ones for managers. We've expanded to our seven primary Chinese factories and are looking for ways to include our shoe factory and two additional factories that we use seasonally."

The average Chinese factory worker has achieved a middle school education, so workshops offer much-needed tools and social skills. Each year, we select one or two mandatory topics--recent choices were working hours and human trafficking, which is part of a company-wide EILEEN FISHER initiative. In addition, workers select topics from a list that might include Chinese social insurance law and parenting and marriage.

"We observed the career planning workshop," says Luna. "It covered a lot of ground--how to know your strengths and weaknesses, even how to start a business. Younger workers often do not intend to stay a factory worker for a very long time. Some of their dreams might be opening a plant shop or going back to school to work in an administrative office."

Training that focuses on human rights is still "very uncommon," according to Wenjuan Yao at Verité. According to Luna, "Providing people with knowledge and tools is one of the best ways to create real change--on the job and in their communities."

Artisans in India: a deeper look
For the last several years, we have been designing scarves that are handloomed by artisans who work at home in remote villages in India. It's an idea that Gandhi talked about: bringing work to the villages and stemming the need for urban migration. For our design team, sourcing handloomed scarves is a thoughtful, intentional choice. But what are the lives of the workers really like?

Luna and Amy drove to an Indian village near the Bangladesh border to see for themselves. They understood clearly that weaving provided a vital source of income and keeps workers close to children and elders. But they had questions: How much of a cut did middlemen take? Did illiteracy prevent the workers from understanding their government benefits? "We had just joined Ethical Trading Initiative and they have been doing a lot of work with homeworkers because they have a higher degree of vulnerability than workers who hold traditional factory jobs," Luna says.

To find a way to reach the artisan community directly, the Social Consciousness Team thought about doing a cell phone survey, but they quickly realized their respondents would likely only be men. In India, women set up the looms and the bobbins; men are the weavers and men control the cell phones. Instead, they decided to commission a study of the weavers' community through ASK- Verité, a local branch of our nonprofit partner.

"We didn't want to bring our assumptions to the table, we wanted to find out what was really needed from the weavers themselves," Luna says. "When our research is complete, we hope to be able to engage with local nonprofits and the weaver community and implement a six-year community development project."
For the curious:  Luna's List

  • We screened The Last Train Home at our offices. A documentary about the 130 million migrant workers who go home to their villages for Chinese New Year, it shows factory life through the eyes of a single family. Available on Netflix. Watch the trailer at
  • If you think human trafficking and slavery is something that doesn't touch your life, watch "Top 10 Facts about the S Word." We watched it as part of our human trafficking training.
  • Half the Sky is "not like a lot of the other books about issues women and girls face around the world," Luna says. "It tells me ways in which I can take action to effect change in the developing world." Learn more at
  • Women, War and Peace is a five-part PBS series with a standout segment, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," that tells the story of Liberian women who used peaceful means to end a brutal civil war. You can watch it at