Missing the Mark: Target Corporation and the Call for Transparency in Global Supply Chains

April 7th, 2020

By Amy Dorman

As a Minnesota resident for over twenty years, I have often been proud of Target Corporation’s role in our local community and its leadership in the global marketplace. When it comes to workers’ rights, Target has often led the way. From raising wage standards for its hourly employees in the US to prioritizing the reduction of its corporate environmental footprint, Target has worked to maintain its reputation in the industry as a leader of progress, workplace innovation, and equity. However, when it comes to protecting human rights for the thousands of factory workers who complete the product assembly essential to the corporation’s continued success, Target is missing the mark.

The demand of the rapidly globalizing market created the corporate push toward cost-saving Global Supply Chains (GSCs), which has subsequently resulted in the gross exploitation of global workers. These human rights violations prompted numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to work to hold corporations accountable for their role in the continued exploitation of workers in GSCs. One of the methods employed recently by NGOs specifically concerned with the apparel and footwear industry has been the creation of the Transparency Pledge, which urges corporations like Target to provide information to the public regarding the specifics of their GSCs for the clothes and shoes it sells. In December 2019, the global coalition of nine trade union federations and human rights organizations who authored the Pledge, including global leader Human Rights Watch, launched a media press release, joint report, online petition, and global social media campaign to encourage all corporations to adhere to the guidelines of the Pledge. According to the coalition, the guidelines of the Pledge are considered the bare minimum standards of disclosure that corporations should employ in order to move toward safer working conditions for workers in garment and footwear GSCs. As of late November 2019, twenty-two companies, including sportswear giants Adidas and Nike, are fully aligned with or committed to adhering to the Pledge’s standards. However, Target is one of the companies that has yet to fully commit to the transparency measures set out by the Pledge, showing a less than satisfactory effort on the behalf of Target Corporation when it comes to ensuring human rights for the workers who are sewing and assembling the clothes and shoes that Target sells.

Target makes a point of trumpeting its reputation as a global leader when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR). The 2016 CSR report released by Target boasted that the corporation ranked “above average” in comparison to other corporations reviewed in the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark, which assesses the transparency practices of two hundred of the largest companies in the world. The Target CSR report for 2018 reveals that Target’s rank in the Benchmark report fell eleven percentage points from 30% in 2016 to a 19% overall score in 2018, ranking an entire percentage category below Wal-mart Stores. Within the Benchmark results, Target Corporation scored only 3.5 out of 10 possible points for transparency. Another major reference, the Fashion Transparency Index, which similarly reviews the transparency standards of 200 global corporations, shows that Target’s product traceability score is only 14% out of 100% for 2019.

Opaqueness within GSCs has resulted in gross human rights violations, including life-altering injuries and the death of thousands of workers due to unsafe working conditions. To its credit, Target does participate in some transparency measures. Target currently releases the names and addresses of its factories, but has failed to disclose the number of workers at each factory, the product types that are assembled at each facility, and the parent company information associated with each factory location. This, however, puts Target’s practices below the standards of the Transparency Pledge. Boosting transparency practices to the level of the Transparency Pledge is essential if Target is to earn and maintain the trust of its customers by fulfilling its communicated promise of being a leader in workers’ rights.

Target cannot truthfully continue to call itself a global leader in the realm of workers’ rights if the corporation does not commit to meaningful transparency in its global supply chain. It is time for Target to join other major corporations in committing to the Transparency Pledge. In taking these steps toward transparency, Target will be able to maintain its commitment to human rights by ensuring that the individual workers who are responsible for the assembly of their clothes and shoes have adequate protection from exploitation.

When a lack of transparency increases the risk of exploitation of the thousands of global workers who make Target’s products, the corporation’s status quo attitude is not enough. It is not forthcoming to congratulate itself on an “above average” performance in global transparency benchmarks when Target’s true transparency scores are in actuality so low. It is not sufficient for Target to commit in writing to the improvement of global livelihoods; practical steps must be taken to improve transparency and protect global workers. It is not enough to simply take a shot; when it comes to workers’ rights and transparency within corporate global supply chains, Target Corporation needs a bulls-eye.

Amy Dorman is a Master of Public Policy student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. In writing her piece, the author reached out to Target Corporation for comment but received no response. You can contact her at dorm0039@umn.edu with any comments or questions.