The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) was founded in 2010 to develop a common set of sustainability standards for the apparel, footwear, and home textile industries. The organization was an example of pre-competitive collaboration, a strategy in which companies within an industry band together to tackle shared challenges. The SAC created the Higg Index to help companies, organizations, and consumers better evaluate and track value chain and product sustainability performance for both environmental and social issues. By providing visibility and transparency across apparel industry value chains, the tool allowed companies to benchmark their performance with peers and identify areas for improvement. However, companies using the Higg Index were not allowed to publicly publish their Higg ratings before a fully developed third-party verification program was established, delaying the very transparency that the tool intended to promote and opening the SAC up to criticism.
The case opens with Sean Cady, the newly appointed chairman of the SAC board of directors, pondering how to respond to requests for greater Higg Index transparency from Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization.