With the rise of the ethical and conscious consumer over the past decade, ethical sourcing has never been more important. Brands know that their commercial success is directly dependent on maintaining a suitable level of quality and their ability to address customer’s concerns regarding human rights issues and environmental requirements.
Ethical Sourcing in the garment industry
In the garment industry, brands that practice ethical sourcing ensure that their sourcing operations are at the highest possible standards of responsible, sustainable and socially aware business practices. They focus their business activities on making sure that their garments are produced and delivered in a manner that meets global ethical and social compliance standards. More fashion companies are jumping on board as they come to the realization that being known as an ethical fashion brand with a healthy supply chain leads to a massive gain in competitive advantage, customer loyalty and brand reputation.
Traditionally, consumers would state their interest and preference for sustainably sourced cotton or other sustainable fabrics, but in reality, how the garment has been made is often a secondary concern after price and style. Today, however, the millennial generation has a significant impact on the retail industry, as they understand the desperate need for sustainable and ethically sourced products, and are more willing to pay for it than former generations. Additionally, retailers have a responsibility to educate their customers about the importance of sustainable sourcing and give their customers the opportunity to purchase products that are good for the environment and society. According to the Sustainable and Ethical Cotton Sourcing Report, a recent survey conducted by the Fairtrade Foundation found that 82% of UK teenagers think brands need to act more responsibly, while only 42% said that they trust brands to do so already. Their spending is believed to reach $1.4 trillion annually in the United States. Therefore, as millennials buy more clothes than any other generation, they will play a critical role in changing the way fashion is produced and initiate a global ethical shift.
There are a number of heavyweight fashion brands which have over the past few years leaped towards having a more ethical and transparent supply chain, and are setting an excellent example for the rest of the fashion industry. In this blog post, we’ll discuss 4 brands that source ethically.
It’s no surprise that Patagonia is on the top of our list. Patagonia is one of the world leaders in green fashion and a pioneer for sustainable fashion. The brand is known for being one of the world’s most respected outdoor brands, actively reducing their environmental impact through sourcing ethically. In 1994, Patagonia decided to take a stand against chemically intensive cotton by switching to organically grown cotton throughout their supply chain. Today, Patagonia prioritizes sustainability by using organic cotton, non-toxic wool, nontoxic hemp, recycled nylon, recycled polyester and other recycled materials such as bottles, roof tiles, and drywall to manufacture clothing.
The outdoor brand has revised their entire supply chain to ensure that their products are produced safely and ethically while reducing their environmental impact of production. They also combat worker exploitation issues by giving their workers health insurance, paid maternity and paternity leave as well as subsidized child care. With their Worn Wear Program, Patagonia discourages customers from purchasing new products by offering to restore Patagonia products that either function perfectly or need some fixing and reselling them as worn wear.
H&M is a fast fashion favorite, known for producing high fashion clothing at an affordable price. H&M’s philosophy is to make trendy clothing affordable for everyone, and as a result, the brand manufactures clothing at an extraordinary speed, making it one of the biggest fast fashion brands in the world. Due to the negative impact fast fashion has on the environment, the brand has actively been taking steps towards a healthier, transparent supply chain.
H&M makes a list of 98.5% of their first-tier supplier's names and addresses as well as 56% of their second-tier supplier’s names and addresses available to the public. This list is displayed on their website and is updated every 3 months. Moreover, H&M has been running the Sustainable Impact Partnership Program (SIPP). This supplier assessment program is based on the Higg Index and suppliers self-report, which aims at actively working with suppliers to set improvement targets. With these measures in place, H&M is well on their way to using 100% recycled or sustainably sourced materials by 2030, as their vision and strategy states.
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Adidas made headlines in 2012 for worker exploitation in Bangladesh but has since then been actively working towards earning its stripes for transparency. To address the issue of poor working conditions, Adidas rolled out a management-worker communication project which allows workers in factories in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Cambodia to send an SMS text message to hotlines if they think that their rights are being compromised. Moreover, The Adidas Group discloses its primary suppliers and subcontractors names and addresses including licensee factory names and addresses in support of freedom of association and signing the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord. This list is available on their website. They are known for being one of five major footwear brands to make their activities known as well as actively addressing forced labor issues in specific companies.
Adidas has been investing in innovative technology and techniques to reduce its environmental impact caused by its manufacturing processes. Some of these technologies include DryDye technology, a process called “NoDye” and a low-waste initiative. The brand has also partnered with an environmental group which combats ocean pollution called Parley for the Oceans and produced a range of products from recycled ocean plastic.
Marks & Spencer
M&S was one of the first high street brands to publish a set of Global Sourcing Principles which is a comprehensive set of standards covering every element of workers’ rights, and working conditions, including pay, overtime, and safety. These policies are regularly updated, and their suppliers must meet all set standards to work with them. M&S’s Global Community Program (GCP) brings together many different ongoing initiatives under one banner, such as their Plan A program which they have received over 100 awards for including being named the ‘Most Ethical High Street Clothing Retailer’ by Ethical Consumer Magazine in 2014. Their Plan A program addresses sustainability by pledging to ensure that suppliers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were able to pay their workers a decent living wage by 2015. Plan A also aims to empower workers in garment supply chains around the world by improving their lives in profound, lasting ways.
Additionally, M&S has regional offices in key sourcing countries which makes it easy for local teams to regularly conduct third-party factory audits to ensure that their global ethical standards are maintained. Rather than writing off any suppliers who don’t meet their standards, M&S believes that they have an important role to play in raising standards across the industry, and therefore take a collaborative approach to the matter. They work closely with their suppliers to improve factory’s working conditions, fire, and electrical safety and they have a solid corrective action plan in place if issues arrive. In 2016, M&S took a step towards increased transparency and responsible sourcing by publishing an interactive map featuring locations of all their active clothing and food manufacturers.
Do you think that more brands will invest in ethical sourcing principles in the near future? Do you have any questions regarding ethical sourcing or the apparel industry in general? Please leave a comment below, we’d happily respond!