Building Transparency within the Sustainable Apparel Coalition: The Road to Successful Pre-Competitive Collaboration

by: Andrew Hoffman

Publication Date: October 8, 2020
Length: 16 pages
Product ID#: 8-059-399

Core Disciplines: Ethics, Information - Technology & Management, Social Impact, Strategy & Management, Sustainability

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Teaching Note

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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.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Compare and contrast implementation barriers to successful pre-competitive collaboration.
  • Analyze the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s commitment to transparency.
  • Formulate strategies to facilitate successful systems design processes in collaboration with various internal and external stakeholders.
  • Evaluate the trade-offs and diverse stakeholder interests within a collaborative process.
  • Debate why pre-competitive collaboration is critical, but difficult, and assess how to preempt and overcome certain challenges.