Wednesday 26 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Finden+Hales

It's tempting just to say "See Skinnifit" because the Finden+Hales website gives broadly identical ethical policy information as Skinnifit and with good reason because these brands have shared ownership -Henbury Limited.

So what's the difference? It's branding - "At Finden+Hales we understand the importance of co-ordinated teamwear and the Finden+Hales collection ensures that each garment can be matched with any other garment in the range"

For a company the size of Henbury and its ethical policies it's difficult to find much good information on the internet. For the record, there are places to go to carry out searches where commentary on ethical practices in trade can be found. Finden+Hales , Skinnifit or Henbury did not feature at all at the following sites:

Clean Clothes - "aim at improving working conditions in the garment and sportswear industry worldwide"

Ethical Corporation - "Not an oxymoron" - much wider than the clothing industry

Global March - "a movement to mobilise worldwide efforts to protect and promote the rights of all children"

Trade Justice Movement -
"a fast growing group of organisations including trade unions, aid agencies, environment and human rights campaigns, fairtrade organisations, faith and consumer groups"

I'll be developing this list elsewhere.

As for Finden+Hales and Henbury generally it's difficult to make any ethical criticism right now. They do not make any environmental claims; let's hope that they stick with their ethical policies in practice as well as in theory. Any more information welcome.

Thursday 20 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Skinnifit

Skinnifit are a Bristol based company established in 1999 to supply the promotional clothing and corporate marketplace. Their aim to "design and manufacture modern and highly wearable clothing, keeping an eye on style and fashion and a tight grip on quality".

They provide a summary of 'our methods' on their website that includes a summary of their ethical policies as follows:

"All of our factories (must) operate in full compliance of their country relating to all applicable laws, rules and regulations - including labour, worker health, safety and the environment.

All workers must be treated with respect and dignity and must not be subject to physical, verbal, sexual or psychological harassment in connection with their employment

All suppliers and factories must adhere to the all applicable labour laws including those related to hiring, wages, hours worked, overtime and working conditions

Workers must be free to join and organise any unions or associations of their own choosing. Where local laws limit the right of freedom of association, employers shall not obstruct alternative and legal means of free association.

There will be no use of forced labour."

I would have liked to have seen more up front rather than in a request to email for greater detail. There's no harm normally in being upfront on specifics. There's little or nothing I could find on environmental issues. Nothing on where their clothing products are sourced.

A quick search revealed potential Bangladesh suppliers (for example China Palace but no adverse reporting of abuses connected with the Skinnifit brand.

It was interesting to look at the websites of some of these Bangladeshi entities. The 'buying agent' Trendzgroup may or may not help supply Skinnifit with clothing sourced from a variety of factories. They boast of Bangladesh: "Cheapest labor cost allows the lowest manufacturing cost in the world." while at the same time have a section on the website dealing with workplace concerns "Our goal is to exceed requirements of local legislation and reach the global standards, and thereby support clients’ images and sourcing principles. We believe work place environment is the most important factor to get the best performance from the employees." Maybe the message is getting home that there are many Western companies who have to now think about the conditions of the supply chain they buy into.

Skinnifit does not make a song and dance about its green credentials or ethics and nothing can be found to directly criticise it, although like many of its competitors it is perhaps small enough to operate below the radar of the international fair trade monitoring organisations.

As ever, any further information is welcome and the best route is to leave a comment.

Monday 17 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Fruit of the Loom (& Screen Stars)

Fruit of the Loom is an example of a 'vertically integrated' company - it manufactures its own cloth and uses it to create a range of garments that are well known to the general public - most people in the UK will at some time have worn Fruit of the Loom promotional clothing - especially their t-shirts.

Fruit of the Loom also make and supply promotional t-shirts under the brand name 'Screen Stars' - so this article also covers that brand.

Fruit of the Loom is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Corporation which itself is controlled by Warren Buffett, the richest person in the world but also one of the world's greatest philanthopists, teaming up with Bill Gates in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to donate mountains of cash to global health and development. With this background you may expect strong ethics as regards trading with the developing world but also you'd also expect Fruit of the Loom management largely to be able to get on with managing the company without interference from above.

There is a fair amount of "buzz" about Fruit of the Loom being an anti-union company. There's an article on the Clean Clothes website focussing on closures in the USA and Ireland and conditions in Morocco for its workers. That dates back to 2001 but provides some historical context. It's close to a time when Fruit of the Loom went through administration leading to acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway and restructuring.

Looking through the Fruit of the Loom website it's actually difficult to find anything at all dealing with ethics and the supply chain. In its latest 'green' e-catalogue online brochure there is a hint of things being better now than in 2001. The company talks of a new "state of the art facility" in Morocco. "We've worked closely with the Moroccan government to ensure that the factory benefits the local people as much as our customers. You can rely on us for.... .... ethical responsibility."

I took a look at Berkshire Hathaways "Code of Business Conduct and Ethics". The word "union" does not feature and there is nothing regarding global considerations. A rather stuffy document but it does have high minded ideals even if it all seems a little remote from a worker in Africa. However I was able to dig up on the website of International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation the Contractor Code of Conduct to be signed by any contractor that includes the requirement that Contractors must not engage in "unfair labor, wage or benefits practice or practices violative of the laws or regulations of the country of manufacture or assembly of products or involving unsanitary, unhealthy and/or unsafe labor conditions, the employment of child, forced, indentured, involuntary, prison or uncompensated labor, the use of corporal punishment, discrimination based on race, gender, national origin or religious beliefs, or similar employment activities or conditions".

I certainly got the impression that this is not a company where executives are running around trying to put on a glossy ethical facade - but also the difficulty that I have had finding anything other than a commentary on anti-union stance seems to point to a company that treats its employees and trading partners reasonably well.

If you can help me out on ethical issues and Fruit of the Loom then please leave a comment.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Hanes

Hanes is a line of promotional clothing produced by HanesBrands, a clothing company headquartered in North Carolina USA which employs 50,000 people internationally.
Hanesbrands owns several other well known brands including Champion (its second largest brand) and Playtex.

So as clothing companies go, Hanes is one of the biggest. How does it stack up on ethics and the environment? Let's take a look at the "Our Values" section of the Hanes website.

Hanesbrands' Vision is "to be a world-class consumer goods company with a distinctive competence in operating a low-cost global supply chain." The last bit here is potentially a bit worrying, if the vision driver is low cost then where does this take you?

Looking further, Hanesbrands' Core Values include "integrity/Ethical Standards" which is more encouraging. They have a Global Business Practices, an employee code of conduct that has been their guiding practice since the 1990s and a set of Global Standards for Suppliers, a supplier code of conduct, has been in place for a similar period, "years longer than similar codes".

Right at the top of the employee code of conduct is the message from the Executive Chairman "These Global Business Standards were developed to provide you with information and resources to make informed business decisions and act on them with integrity. These standards are also a declaration to our customers, business partners and stockholders that we are committed to conducting business as we always have – by doing the right thing. In your career, you may be faced with a situation that does not appear to support our business values or you’re not sure if it is the right course of action." It then goes onto list contact points where to go for advice, outside the individual's direct chain of command.

An interesting statement aimed at empowering the individual employee. I like it although it's difficult to tell how this sort of thing works in practice.

Moving away from employees, how does the
"low-cost global supply chain" work?

In the recent article on B&C we highlighted operations in Bangladesh. The National Labor Committee in the US have been to Bangladesh and their report here from 2006 was not good reading for Hanes. The reaction of Hanes and Wal-Mart (also cited) was to terminate supplies. On the face of it, good, but then some (United Students Against Sweatshops)
say "instead of staying to correct the situation, Hanes abandoned the factory, leaving workers without jobs".

You may think damned if you do take supplies from developing countries, damned if you don't. And with the wide range of interests of people willing to criticise, you are of course right.

That article actually focuses on Hanes' operations in the Dominican Republic - "abusive and unsafe working conditions" - something that is confronted head on and prominently on the Hanesbrands website (a link on the main Values page) and by an independent report.

Hanes have not abandoned their operations but recognised 'managerial issues' and 'overtime pay practices' and other issues that needed addressing and it is to be welcomes that they appear to have addressed them, including the retrospective payment of overtime.

What's the big difference between the Dominican Republic and Bangladesh? In the former the workers are employed by Hanes, in the latter by the sub-contractor.

Ethical Corporation
writes "while brand pullouts from specific factories such as those by Wal-Mart and Hanesbrands may jolt Bangladeshi employers into putting their houses in order, they still are not seen as the most effective way of dealing with a sticky situation, especially when the decision could leave many impoverished".

I am not sure. Closure may seem harsh and simply an easy way to appease some critics, but we do not know what messages were coming from the current owners; in the long run if a consistent approach is taken those in Bangladesh or other places who profit from unethical labour practices will have to changes their ways.

But some engagement with (including where appropriate inspection of) suppliers is important.

That thought takes me back to Hanesbrands' Global Standards for Suppliers, an interesting read. Asides from what you would expect to see in terms of ethical business practices there is some quite refreshing content (such as "Gifts, favors and entertainment are not needed in order
to conduct business with Hanesbrands,") and an ethical "Mirror Test".

The Global Standards say....

"Failure to observe and abide by these Global Standards for Suppliers may result in Hanesbrands ceasing to do business with such supplier. As evidence of their concurrence, suppliers will enter into a written commitment to comply with these Standards and sign the attached Acknowledgement Card."

The document includes a tear off reply slip to certify "I hereby acknowledge receipt of Hanesbrands’ Global Standards for Suppliers, and certify that our company is, and will continue to be, in compliance with the provisions of the Global Standards for Suppliers."

I assume the Bangladeshi factory owners had looked in the mirror, admired their well cut suits, and then returned the reply slip! Hanesbrands' written standards point to their heart being in the right place but perhaps they need to be a bit more proactive in getting out there into the field and seeing first hand what is going on.

There is only limited time for each of these brand profile summaries - I welcome any further feedback on this or others.

Monday 10 March 2008

What's in a name?

The eagle eyed will have noticed that this section of the Pier 32 site has been renamed "News & Views".


Well, that's what it is. It may be a blog too, but 'blog' is not quite as precise and for customers visiting the site they now know a little more what to expect.

There's a scurrilous rumour circulating here that it was simply that I wanted to stop Gerry asking me, "Scott, what's a blog?"

Thursday 6 March 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - B&C

B&C are a name well known in the European promotional clothing industry if not a household name. They are part of the Cotton Group - based in Belgium. They generate a turnover of 72 million euros and 52 million items were sold by them in 2006.

The Cotton Group employ about 100 staff in Europe - all production being outsourced but have a branch in Dhaka in Bangladesh to take their representatives closer to many of their suppliers.

B&C's website has a strong fashion concious feel - it's big, expensive and glossy. It's products are projected as being of a higher quality than some alternatives.

B&C is a member of the BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative). With big brands (including Aldi, Esprit, ZARA, C&A and Etam) and 109 participants in total this is another example of companies banding together to gain an ethical accreditation to get "Synergy effects, reduction of multiple auditing thereby reducing costs".) BCSI set out that their code of conduct complies with social and ecological standards under the rules of the International Labour Organisation, United Nations convention and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Every B&C supplier gives a written undertaking to comply with the code of conduct issued by the BSCI. BSCI then undertake company audits of its members' suppliers carried out by BSCI-approved independent international inspection companies and put remedial actions in place where needed.

B&C say that they "initiated positive actions in Bangladesh following the collapse of the Spectrum factory" (For more on this and other factory tradegies in Bangladesh see the Clean Clothes Campaign website. Details of the follow up are here. The site suggests that BSCI "code implementation programmes completely failed to identify the many violations, including safety risks, at Spectrum").

The Clean Clothes Campaign is not encouraged. "In the CCC's view, the BSCI represents an incomplete, minimalist model for compliance with labour standards. It relies on weak auditing, is not accountable to the public, and does not involve key stakeholders. It is significantly weaker than other monitoring and verification initiatives active in the garment sector today. " (See here for their review of the BSCI).

There is a press release dealing with this on the BSCI website. "Although the control of the construction of a factory building goes beyond the responsibilities of buyers and also the contents of social audits, BSCI members have increased their efforts to improve the situation”, "Moreover, some BSCI members are contributing to a local fund which has the aim to provide support to the Spectrum collapse’s victims and their families." "An effective change is urgently needed because if Bangladesh is not able to provide a better level of social compliance, buyers might consider changing to other sourcing markets."

Some B&C garments were made at Spectrum - according to the website, "those who have not committed to the compensation trust fund include: Carrefour (France), Cotton Group (Belgium), New Yorker, Steilmann, Kirsten Mode, and Bluhmod (Germany)".

On the environmental front B&C do not just rely on BSCI. They are Oeko-Tex 100 Standard certified, for T-shirts, Polo Shirts, Shirts and Sweatshirts. (It is to be noted that Oeko-Tex 100 is an independent certification and well regarded).

So what are we to make of this outsourcing of ethics? It seems to make economic sense but if the members make the rules? Clearly it's a lot cheaper than doing it yourself (as might Adidas) or going the truly independent Fair Trade route (as Okarma) but does it provide more than an ethical veneer?

As for any of these Ethical Brand Profiles, more information on this subject is welcome including anything that sets out positive effects of the BSCI's response to Spectrum or other criticisms.