Last week I was powerfully engaged by a brand that I’ve never purchased a product from before. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand were featured in the press recently because of a human rights scandal within their own second tier manufacturing chain. They’re not the only brand to become involved in such scandal, but unlike many of their competitors involved in similar situation, Patagonia whistle blew their own scandal. In 2011 they uncovered gross human rights abuse within their manufacturing contractors in Taiwan which horrified them. But instead of trying to hide what was happening they took action and dove deeper into their supply chain to set a new standard for Migrant Workers.
I really admire the brand for taking action. What was uncovered was the responsibility of contractors they hired in Taiwan to manufacture their clothing which is standard industry practice, but they didn’t hide behind the “We didn’t know, it wasn’t our fault” response, which would have been the easier approach. Instead they boldly went so far as to call the conditions in the factories ‘Modern Day Slavery’ and ‘Human Trafficking’ which for me is a true representation of the ethical values of their brand and how horrified they were to be a part of such human rights abuse.
Controversies they uncovered in the supply chain
Migrant workers were being forced to pay labour Brokers extortionate fees of up to $7,000 to arrange visas and transport and other essentials to work in their factories in Tawain. Considering the wage these workers were being paid, it can take up to two years to even repay the brokers, they are then tied to the company in a form of modern day slavery. They can’t afford to leave and are stuck.
Patagonia set out to develop new standards, repay workers and encourage other companies to adhere to the same standards to eradicate current practices with their suppliers, and change the ethics of the industry.
An excerpt from Patagonia’s blog on the Migrant Worker Standard which they refer to as human trafficking.
Working with Verité, we first developed a comprehensive migrant worker standard for our factories that covered every aspect of employment, including pre-hiring interactions, labor contracts, wages and fees, retention of passports, living and working conditions, grievance procedures and repatriation.
Then, in December 2014, we hosted a forum for our Taiwanese suppliers to explain the new standard that, among many things, requires them to stop charging fees to foreign workers hired on or after June 1, 2015. They can either pay the fees themselves or hire workers directly without the use of labor brokers.
We also mandated that they repay currently employed workers, who were hired before June 1, all fees that exceeded the legal amount.
Our factory partners listened with interest and asked many questions. They understand our values and our belief in the cost of doing business responsibly. We are committed to partnering with them to eliminate human rights issues in our supply chain and we were very pleased to see their strong overall commitment to doing right by their workers.
Hoping to inspire further-reaching change (and continue to educate ourselves), staff from Patagonia’s social and environmental responsibility department also met with Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor Workforce Development Agency. We had a productive dialogue about ways to improve the system for all companies in Taiwan. As a result, representatives from the agency provided training to our suppliers on the practice of direct hiring.
And, because this form of human trafficking is not confined to the island of Taiwan, we have applied our migrant worker standard to our entire supply chain. We’ve also made the standard publicly available to any company that would like to adopt it.
Living their brand values
Patagonia are a best in class example of a purpose driven brand, living and acting on their values day in and out. Their values, Quality, Perfection and Environmental sit at the heart of everything they communicate and their actions. Their mission statement sums up their values perfectly. “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Their CEO and founder, Yvon Chouinard has always maintained he has spent more time roaming the globe in the outdoors, than in the boardroom meaning he can truly connect with their target customers and what drives them. As a result the business has always focused on operating in an environmentally sustainable way, setting the bar for how clothing manufacturers should operate.
Translating values into an ad campaign
In 2011, they translated their values into a bold advertising campaign in the New York Times leading up to Black Saturday in the US. They admit their own environmental failings, and in an attempt to counteract toxic consumerism during the holiday, they encouraged people not to buy what they don’t need and featured their best selling jacket in the ad, stating the cost to the environment to manufacture, distribute and recycle was not worth it.
A purpose driven, meaningful brand
75% of consumers are no longer brand loyal, meaning brands need to engage with their customers in a much more meaningful way, to remain relevant to them. Brands need to live their customers values. Patagonia know their customers: adventurers, who love the outdoors, love nature and love the environment, which is why they have focused so much attention on sustainability and the environment across all facets of their business. And clearly environment also rings true for the working environment in which staff and associated contractors are living in across the across the entire manufacturing and supply chain. Hopefully their actions will inspire other companies to follow suit and end modern day slavery in manufacturing. Personally I would select Patagonia over any other competitors as a result of learning more about the brand.
Director of Brand Projects