"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela
Since starting this blog, I've become more and more passionate about purchasing my clothing with the knowledge that no one was harmed or taken advantage of during the production process. And the more I talk to others about this, I find that many people would like to do the same, but aren't sure where to find the information they need in order to make informed spending decisions. Like I've mentioned in the past, I don't blame people - it is confusing and there aren't a lot of resources out there that will tell you one way or another what stores are safe to shop at, and which aren't. I've also found it overwhelming to step into my local mall and try to figure out where I can shop in good conscious.
A very large part of the reason I work in the non-profit sector, and specifically at the Wellspring Foundation, is that I believe education has the power to change the world. In Africa it has the power to lift children and their families out of poverty, and here in North America it has the power to help us make informed choices, and discern the best ways to help our brothers and sisters across the world who are deprived of the opportunities we have in our affluent society. The main weapon we need in order fight the battle against child labour, forced labour and harsh working conditions for our garment producers is knowledge. So, I've decided to start a project. Beginning with the mall I shop at most often (as do most of my readership at this point), I will research each store, the brands they carry, their supply chains and auditing processes and let you know which shops you can shop at with confidence, and which to steer clear of.
Fortunately, Coquitlam Centre (the mall I'll be critiquing) is quite large and has stores that appear in malls all over North America, so most likely anyone on the continent will have a good idea of some stores that they can feel good about shopping at. Since the list is so large, I'll be doing this in seven parts. I started my research in alphabetical order, so this post will feature stores with names beginning with A or B. To make things simple, I'll be categorizing each store as a Green Light, if I could find information that shows that the store is actively combatting human trafficking, child labour, and harsh conditions in the supply chain, and that there are unannounced audits of the factories on a regular basis; Yellow Light, if there is information that the company is doing something to keep forced labour, child labour and harsh conditions out of its factories, with regular audits, though generally announced, giving factories time to cover up actions that might not be tolerated; or Red Light is there is little or no information on the companies supply chain, or if a document has been signed committing to combating these practices, but there is no information on how this is done or if suppliers are held accountable.
The store itself doesn't seem to have a website. The closest I could get is the PANDORA website, which is a brand they sell. PANDORA has been certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), is working to minimize it's environmental footprint, and claims to offer safe working conditions, competitive wages and a comprehensive benefit package to all employees in it's supply chain. The website boasts: “Through the RJC, we actively engage with other responsible jewellery brands, organisations and civil society to lead the way towards a more sustainable jewellery industry, from mine to retail.”
All in all, I would say Acinda Jewellers is a Yellow Light company. While I would have very little issue with purchasing PANDORA jewellery from them, I couldn't find any information on other brand names they carry.
ALDO group - the company behind the accessory store, is very unique. ALDO has direct sourcing, in which the ALDO group controls every stage of production - nothing is outsourced, and they own all their production facilities. They also have an environmental strategy called CHANGE, which is a detailed plan to reduce their carbon footprint.
Alia N TanJay
While this company support breast cancer campaigns locally, it is impossible to find any information on their supply chains, making me hesitant to shop there. If you can't find any information, it's probably because they aren't doing anything.
American Eagle Outfitters
I wasn't a huge fan of American Eagle until I did some research on their company, and I was blown away! Not only are they a signatory of The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, which went into effect on January 1, 2012 and "required retail companies and manufacturers doing business in California with annual worldwide gross receipts of more than US$100 million to disclose corporate policies to eradicate slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains", the also have an entire website with detailed information on how American Eagle is treating their producers with dignity and respect. Check it out at betterworld.ae.com! American Eagle outfitters has pre-sourcing inspection of facilities, they help existing suppliers meet expectations for social compliance and remedy any issues they face. Their website also talks about how they value transparency in suppliers: “In 2010, we took a strong stance to guarantee that we received full, genuine reporting of supply chain issues. We informed suppliers that failure to show an accurate accounting of workplace conditions (including real and correct books of records) or attempts to hide any information necessary to the audit would result in a significant penalty – up to and including termination of our business relationship.”
Their suppliers are prohibited from using child labour (defined as workers younger than 15 or the compulsory age to be in school), forced or involuntary labour, using corporal punishment, threats of violence or harassment, discrimination in hiring based on “race, religion, age, nationality, social or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender or political opinion," and they must supply a safe and healthy working environment. The company also inspects the suppliers facilities, sometimes unannounced or without notice. Part of this process is private interviews with the workers at the facilities, giving them the opportunity to tell the inspectors things they wouldn't in front of their bosses.
Ann Louise Jewellers
Their website boasts that all diamonds are conflict free, and they carry Canadian diamonds. However, I couldn't find information on any of the other metals used in their products.
I love Apple. This quote from their website is one reason:“Because education is a great equalizer, we’re investing heavily in helping workers throughout our supply chain learn new skills and better understand their rights. In 2013, more than 280,000 people at 18 supplier sites took courses in a range of subjects through our free education and development program. In addition, our suppliers trained more than 1.5 million workers on their rights, bringing the total number trained since 2007 to 3.8 million.” They also work to help suppliers protect student interns and other at-risk workers. They're working to end excessive work hours. They're also driving responsible sourcing of minerals, and have publicly released a list of smelters and refiners in their supply chain to promote transparency. In fact, Apple recently released a statement saying there was no forced labour used in their tantalum mines (a mineral used in most electronics.) So far, they are the only company I know of that has been able to say that. They conduct hundreds of audits each year at every point in their supply chain, and they have a list of 18 final assembly facilities and top 200 suppliers on the website. They really take transparency to a whole new level!
Absolutely no information on producers or supply chain to be found.
Aritzia is unique as it has a Social and Environmental Responsibility Team, whose mission is guiding employees and partners toward socially and environmentally responsible decisions: “We love our people, so we take care to ensure that everyone we work with (from the employees in our office, to our cleaning staff, to the person who sews the button onto your parka) are treated fairly, paid properly, and work in a healthy and safe environment.” A third-party social compliance auditing company conducts annual workplace condition audits of all their garment factories and their SER team works with vendors and factories to make improvements in any area that receives low scores. I love their philosophy on their production factories as well: “We do not believe in severing partnerships; instead, we believe in working to continuously improve the performance and well-being of all our collaborators." One down side, which is why Aritzia is a split between green and yellow, is that all their factory inspections are announced, which could potentially give the managers time to cover-up any misdemeanours However, Aritzia announces inspections within a two-week window, which may help to limit this.
Aritzia gives back at home, too. They partner with a Salvation army project that rescues victims of human trafficking and abuse and provide them with shelter and a safe environment while they heal, as well as the Umoja Operation whose mission is to empower minorities and other refugees to integrate into Canadian society and to support initiatives to improve the quality of life in the third world.
I could find no information on the store website, however, there are a few brands which they carry which are known for being socially responsible - Patagonia in particular.
Bath and Body Works
The only information I can find on their website is that they don’t test on animals, which is great, but says nothing about the people that work for them. I'm not sure of the processes involved in the making of bath and body products, but I found it strange that there was no information whatsoever on their website.
Bell has introduced e-bills and reusable bags, as well as a battery and mobile phone recycling program in their stores to limit their environmental footprint, which is great! But what about the materials used in the products they sell, and the people who make them? While the website says that Bell is a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact, a set of universal principles addressing human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption issues, and notes that supply chain issues are a mega-trend in the industry, the website does not outline what (if anything) Bell is doing to monitor their supply chains.
Below the Belt
I could find no information whatsoever on their website about supply chains. However, they do list their brands, so one could research each brand individually. I’ve done research on a few of them, to get us started.
· Volcom is a signatory of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. Their auditing process includes third-party audits of the entire factory, including its dormitories. The auditing teams interview groups of workers, as well as individuals, without the presence of their management, to allow them to comment on their working conditions and any suspected abuse. All audits are scheduled in advance.
· Obey has no information on its website about supply chains.
Element has adopted Social Accountability International's SA8000 social compliance standard, which states that there should be no use or support of child labor, no use or support for forced or compulsory labour, a safe and healthy workplace should be provided, each employee should have Freedom of Association and Right to Collective Bargaining, and there should be no discrimination based on race, national or social origin, caste, birth, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political opinions and age. There's actually a lot more on their website, but for the sake of time, feel free to check it out yourself if you want more information.
Fox: "Fox trains its staff involved with the vendor selection and evaluation process in social responsibility issues, inclusive of human trafficking and slavery, for both new and seasoned employees, [and]... conducts refresher seminars annually. Fox suppliers has to sign their code of conduct, and must submit to an audit on a regular basis. I think you get the idea, so I'll stop there. Feel free to check out the Below the Belt website and research any of your favourite brands!
Ben Moss sells Canadian diamond, which are mined in Canada, and are conflict free. They also have a statement on their website which says, “Ben Moss Jewellers believes in working with the World’s Diamond Industry in stopping the sale of conflict diamonds. Ben Moss Jewellers has received guarantees from our diamond suppliers that they participate with the Kimberly Process and that diamonds provided to Ben Moss Jewellers are conflict-free.” While this is comforting, there's no information on how this is guaranteed.
Bentley gives to 2 charities locally, but has no information on their supply chains.
Best Buy has a “Best Buy for Kids” giving program, which supports local and national programs. However, they have no information on their supply chains. What might be best in the case of Best Buy is to research the brand of electronic you are planning on buying. Or just stick with Apple.
The Blueline Sports website also has no information on their supply chains.
Bluenotes has raised massive amounts of money for the Kids Help Phone, which is a great cause! However, they also have no information on their factories or the people who make their clothes.
Boathouse has very little information on their responsibility globally, but does contribute to two local funds. It also features three brands which are more socially conscious, two of which - Ten Trees and WeWood - are environmentally friendly, and one -TOMs shoes - which gives shoes and glasses to people in the developing world. Here is not the place to talk about the downsides to TOMs shoes, (a great idea with bad development theory), but in my opinion, carrying TOMs is not enough to convince us that we can be confident that no one was harmed in the making of the clothing they carry. Many of their brands are similar to Below the Belt, and are also listed on their website. If you have the time and interest, feel free to do some research on each individual brand! If you do, please comment below with some of your findings!
Bobby Dazzler is a strange store, which apparently carries everything. In fact, I'm not really clear on what kind of store it is. However, it has no information anywhere on where or how the products it carries are made.
The Body Shop
All of the products at The Body Shop are 100% vegetarian and cruelty free, which again, is great! But, (to me at least) even better is the fact that the Body Shop believes in Fair Trade! In fact, the company set up its own fair trade program, called Community Trade, which works with 30+ suppliers in 20+ countries and provides 25,000+ people with income! Their website says that "most" of their products contain Community Trade ingredients. They list their five core values on their website, which are: Support Community Trade, Defend Human Rights, Against Animal Testing, Active Self-Esteem, and Protect our Planet.
Bootlegger has no information about its supply chain on its website.
Looking back, this may look bleak. Only 4.5 of the 21 companies featured on the first part of this project are really great companies, working to provide great opportunities for the labourers in their supply chain. But don't despair! I have 77 companies to go!