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.

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