Retail supply chain alliance the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) is to overhaul its sourcing guidelines as the need to promote ethical trade climbs up the industry agenda.

The ETI will overhaul its web site at the end of July and adapt its guidelines for publication by the end of this year. It will provide advice for retailers on how to work collaboratively with other companies, as well as trade unions and NGOs, to improve workers’ conditions.

The initiative comes at the end of a week in which Primark was criticised for severing contracts with three Indian suppliers, which the BBC’s Panorama exposed as using child labour. Also this week, Spanish retail giant Inditex forced the closure of a factory in Bangladesh on ethical grounds.

“Events of this week put a finger on hot issues and dilemmas facing retailers,” said ETI director Dan Rees. “How far they can integrate ethical and corporate practices will really define the next decade and who can really make a change and walk the talk.”

Rees said the guidelines will urge retailers to focus less on audits and more on action, such as engaging with projects that address the root cause of labour issues. He added: “Retailers need to be supporting their suppliers, not just policing them. They need to do more to encourage better employment practices and understand how the pressures put on suppliers can affect their practices, working this into price negotiations.”

Debenhams chief executive Rob Templeman – one of ETI’s founder members – told Retail Week: “It is a hard thing to police. All the companies are pretty vigilant about their supply chain. But if you put in an order for 100,000 garments, you can’t count every one.”