10 May 2016

Is your supply chain ethical?

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You spend your days sitting, back hunched, for at least 60 hours per week. You can’t chat too much or hum too loudly, you will be yelled at. You’ve developed a cough from the inhalation of cotton fibres in such a small, cramped space without ventilation. You are allowed half a day off on Fridays without holidays or sick leave and you get by on $25 a month.

Such is the life of a nine-year-old sweatshop worker, Meem, as described in the Daily Mail. She is one of around 300,000 young women in Tamil Nadu, South India. These workers are the first point of the production chain and the bottom of an oppressive slave labour system.

It’s difficult to comprehend that this practice is still prolific in developing nations as we read about it on our MacBooks or iPhones, often clad in the very garments Meem slaves over. The question echoes, how do we let this happen?

The shirts, jeans and hats aren’t grown on trees or harvested. Nor do they simply appear in warehouses before they are shipped to your local mall. There are three main phases of the supply chain:

  1. Raw materials- these are the ‘ingredients’ for your clothes; cotton, wool, rawhide and oil (for synthetic fibres)
  2. Inputs production- here, textiles are spun, knitted, dyed and embroidered
  3. Final stage production- the material is cut, trimmed and sewn into wearable garments

A report by Baptist World Aid, featured in the Sydney Morning Herald, revealed that 77 per cent of surveyed fashion companies their suppliers at the final stage of production. Similarly, 29 per cent knew where their fabric was produced.

Only 5 per cent were aware of whom their suppliers were. This indicates a major problem in the raw materials stage of the supply chain.

If companies don’t know (or don’t care) who their suppliers are, how can they ensure the ethical treatment of the workers?

 Based on their transparency and willingness to engage with researchers, Oroton, General Pants, Pumpkin Patch and Lorna Jane were among the worst ranked companies.

Adidas and Audrey Blue, in contrast, scored a perfect ‘A’ grade. Of the 87 companies surveyed, only 6 earned themselves the top assessment.


Are you shopping to support an ethical supply chain? Check the tag on your shirt you’re wearing. Now search it on Shop Ethical. How do you rank?

Claire Dowler is a Conference Producer with Akolade. She recently graduated with a double degree: a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Media and Communications Studies majoring in International Communication. Claire minored in sarcasm and puns.

A ballroom-dancer who collects salt and pepper shakers and volunteers for animal rescue, you might say Claire has eclectic interests.

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