Trading ethically in a modern world

I personally don’t see value in naming and shaming brands that have not yet identified the importance of trading in an ethical manner.   In our modern world however; when we can easily identify who is sourcing ethically, it does make us question the culture and values behind brands who have not yet gone down the ethical trading path.

Currently there are no laws within Australia to demand fashion brands, or for that matter any brands importing goods, to source ethically.  However Australian businesses trading with factories in developing countries have a moral obligation to ensure the people who produce the goods for their brand are being treated fairly and have a safe working environment.  It is also the responsibility of the factory management to develop a culture where workers are valued, treated fairly and kept safe while at work.

Creating a brand’s own ethical sourcing policy and implementing it throughout their business, I might add, is not a simple task.  I am sure it is a daunting thought for many brands. Having the moral courage to lead this continuous improvement process does take knowledge, genuine commitment and of course, resources.

In general consumers are becoming, more knowledgeable, through greater media coverage and transparency, and in some cases are buying based on a brand’s commitment to sourcing ethically.  As part of the consumer’s acquisition of ethical sourcing knowledge, they need to understand this is a continuous improvement process.  For example, when a factory has its first ethical sourcing audit, it is likely the factory will not meet all the requirements of the ethical sourcing code they are being assessed against. 

In the instance of a non-conformances found during an audit, a time frame is set for corrective action and a re audit is conducted, to ensure the issues identified at the previous audit are rectified and corrective measures implemented for the future.  This process continues until the factory has met all the requirements of the code.   Ethical Sourcing Audits will continue even once the factory has met all the requirements.  The frequency of audits however will drop back to approximately 12 to 18 months, with the aim of monitoring the standards the factory has already achieved, ensuring performance remains consistent into the future.

Some examples of issues that can present themselves during a factory ethical sourcing audit include; child labour, illegal labour, forced, bonded or involuntary labour, wages and benefits discrepancies, working hours discrepancies, discrimination, inappropriate disciplinary practices, employees are unable to join or form a trade union and to bargain collectively, unsafe or unclean working and accommodation environments, inadequate facilities, eg. unclean toilets and/or no clean drinking water.  Insufficient personal protective safety equipment and/or workers are not trained to use these items, no safeguards on machinery.  The factory may use sub-contactors, however one or more of the sub-contractors don’t not have an ethical sourcing program.  The environment may not meet all the relevant local and national environmental protection laws.  There could be evidence of bribery and corruption as part of their business practices.  The factory may not comply with all the legal requirements of the countries in which they operate.  Animals may be being harmed.

The ethical sourcing movement is a relatively new movement when compared to many other industries.  It is however encouraging to note, the tide is turning and we should applaud those companies who are mindful and genuinely committed to improving the working lives of the workers who produce goods for their brands.

To those brands who are yet to adopt an ethical sourcing policy and implement standards for fair and safe working conditions; I encourage you to be brave and take up this moral challenge.  Your customers will respect you for it.  More importantly by working together we can make a real difference to the working lives of those who produce goods for Aussie brands.  Lets celebrate those brands committed to making a difference and encourage those who have not yet started their ethical sourcing journey to be courageous and get on board.