Monday 29 September 2008

Ethical Brand Profile - Continental

Continental, alongside Starworld, are the names behind the two promotional clothing ranges who supply direct to Pier 32. Almost all the other brands that we have been reviewing in our Ethical Brand Profiles are supplied to us through an intermediary distributor. Starworld's ethical credentials have been the subject of many articles in this blog; Continental have featured too - but we have not yet completed a Brand Profile - so with no further ado.....

Continental go about presenting their products in a modern, polished manner. Instantly from the home page of their website there is a green environmental message coming across is all the branding. We have already featured in this blog their EarthPositive range featuring their Climate Neutral clothing collection, their role in campaigning against the exploitation of child labour in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan, the positive aspects of using organic cotton in conversion, and the eco-friendly luxury of the bamboo t-shirt.

This paints the background of a company with high eco-friendly standards. They are a private company and their UK based founders feature prominently in the various initiatives which they have followed. While their Climate Neutral clothing range directly using natural energy in its production, the rest of the company's activities are certified as Carbon Neutral by an independent monitor as a result of carbon offsetting.

Independent monitoring of their environmental claims is very evident with Oeko-Tex certification, their main line of organic t-shirts are certified organic by Skal and carry the organisation's EKO symbol and last but by no means least, their Earth Positive range is certified organic by the Soil Association.

What you get in terms of environmental impact very much depends on which brand line you go for. To concentrate on their mainstream range, "Continental Collection", and moving away from their Skal certified organic range that is part of that collection, what you get here is a t-shirt made from organic cotton in conversion. Follow the link for more information.

So there is the environment looking good. What about ethical, free trade issues? Here things are not quite so clear from the website. The supply chain of the EarthPositive range is stated to be Fair Wear foundation accredited. The same applies to the Eco Apparel range within the unbranded "Private Label" service. What about the rest? Our conclusion is that Continental have messed up their presentation

The Fair Wear Foundation website lists all its members and there you will find details of Continental. The message confirms our own long standing understanding that Continental products are manufactured in a factory in Turkey and that factory is monitored by the Fair Wear Foundation. With Continental's concern for the environment and their campaigning on child labour issue, it would have been most surprising to have discovered a chink in their ethical armour.

Know any different? Let us know!

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Starworld WRAP it up

Although we offer a huge range of options, the majority of the t-shirts that we print are supplied by Starworld who manufacture the shirts in Egypt. We like Starworld because of the price and the high ethical standards under which they operate. They don't just boast about standards using flowery language, they back up their position with independent certification from a range of sources.

The Oeko-Tex 100 certification means that a whole range of harmful chemicals are not used in the production process. The quality management systems are certified to the ISO 9001 standard. The organic t-shirts are certified organic by Skal to the Global Organic Textiles Standard and carry the organisation's EKO symbol.

Now Starworld are certified by WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production). WRAP is a not for profit organisation based in the USA with an office in Hong Kong dedicated to promoting humane, ethical, and lawful conditions and practices in manufacturing facilities all over the world.

The organisation achieves this in two ways. First, the Certification Program certifies individual factories for compliance with WRAP's principles and procedures concerning, fair pay, workers' dignity, safe and secure conditions, and environmental impact. The Apparel Certification Program has operated since 2000; programs for other industries will be added in the future. Second, various training programs educate workers, factory managers, government inspectors, and others about issues related to global supply chains and their workers.

The WRAP website sets out here what gives their certification integrity. The certificate, which covers all the areas of the Starworld Ethical Policy Statement, and goes further, means that Starworld can be relied on to actually be following the high standards they set themselves - "Our compliance with the WRAP standards is just the beginning is just the beginning of our commitment to our employees and the environment. We have developed a wide range of initiatives that greatly reduce our impact on the planet and contribute positively to the well-being of our workers and the local community"

We'd like to highlight the vertical integration of Starworld. The whole production process is carried out by Starworld and its employees. Pier32 buys direct and that means our customers get the best value while the new WRAP certification means that we have ever growing confidence about the ethics of our supply chain.

Monday 1 September 2008

Ethical brand profile - Regatta

Regatta supplies clothing for the "great outdoors" - going beyond t-shirts, through weather protection clothing for those occasionally active outdoors, to high performance clothing for "high-energy activities". And it supplies these in ranges for men, women and children. There's also a specific corporate clothing website

Right on the homepage of its main website is the prominent image link to their ethical trading policy, available for viewing as a .pdf. Regatta is part of a bigger group that includes popular brands for British mail order or High Street shoppers such as Hawkshead and Craghoppers. The ethical trading policy covers all their brands.

Most of the clothing is supplied from Asia (although it's not clear where) and there's a focus on 'the worker' in what is presented. "We feel very strongly that workers in factories are treated fairly and are better off through working with us than they were before."

Moving into the detail, it's a little confusing as to what's going on. There's a Policy section which sets out that Regatta require visual inspections of factories and conduct interviews with managers and workers. Then there's an audit section which says "In addition to our own Ethical Trading policy, we also use a recognised third party organisation that carries out strict ethical inspections." So there's a suggestion of a 2 tier approach - regatta monitoring and 3rd party monitoring - but it's not quite clear that this is indeed the case. It may be that the audit of the policy is in the hands of third parties only.

The audit is carried out by a "recognised leader in its field" but Regatta aren't telling us who! But we should not nit pic because Regatta do go rather further than many and the ethical code that is presented is as good as most.

One area where these ethical codes can break down (as highlighted in recent television coverage of Primark) is where some work on the clothing being produced is being carried out in sweatshop conditions outside the confines of the factory being audited. The possibilities of abuses in sub contracting further down the supply chain is something which does not feature in policies which centre on auditing factories. We think that it would be better if the full supply chain for a particular garment was audited - however the nature of what Regatta sell probably means that the whole manufacturing process occurs in one place.

Unlike some bigger companies such as Adidas, Regatta do not publish the results of the audit process. Again it may seem like nit picking for what appears to be a fairly well sorted company, but it's through comment on this sort of thing that standards get pushed even further forward.

Switching to environmental issues, the Regatta brochures highlight the wide range of performance fabrics used in their clothing - 'Polartec', 'Isotex' and 'Isolite' being examples. Curiously there seems to be no specific mention of the impact of production on the environment, which is disappointing.