Ethical-minded brands should look in the most unethical places to resolve supply chain issues

Taking the step into the realm of ethical business is a significant move and definitely timely, not only due to the latest UK regulation, the Modern Slavery Act, but also due to the ever-increasing consumer demand for ethically made products.

Supply chains are complex, and when looking down from the top – the retailers view – there are many segments and corners that are not visible at a glance. You can’t always take the word of your suppliers that things down the supply chain are running smoothly and to the standards you’re advising. You have to put practices in place to ensure your business, from top to bottom, is running in the way you want, and amendments can only be made once issues/areas of risk are brought to light.

Whatever your motivation for taking an interest in labour standards in your supply chain, whether it’s because you have a genuine desire to run an ethical business or because you have to abide by laws/regulations, it is better to know about the issues than not. Assuming that you have no issues is an unwise standpoint as supply chains are rarely issue-free. Denial and/or ignorance are seldom bliss for long and leave you vulnerable to surprise and attack.

Yes, product output/production and profit may look great from the top, but that doesn’t mean the practices and people producing these goods further down the supply chain are great.

Our 3 recommended key areas to explore and frequently monitor:

  • How workers are treated
    • How they are treated verbally (and potentially physically) by managers, line managers and colleagues etc.
    • Their pay - does it meet minimum requirements?
    • The hours they work and whether they are free to choose or are pressured to do overtime
    • Job security and freedom – Do they feel as though they may be fired for taking a sick day? And do they feel as though they can freely resign from their job role without any consequences?
  • Safety conditions
    • Building conditions – Is the building in which they work safe? Are regular checks carried out to ensure there is no risk of fire, building collapse etc.?
    • Equipment – Are they applied with the required equipment to perform their job safely and meet the targets they are being set?
    • Training – Are staff trained on a regular basis to use any machinery or equipment they may need to use?
  • Forced labour and child labour
    • Did staff have a choice in their employment?
    • Are there any children illegally working somewhere in the supply chain?

Many existing practices to monitor such areas, for instance standard audit tools, can create an environment of fear, and the validity of the data is often questionable. We believe that the key to transparency and entering these ‘unethical’ places is in accessing the worker voice – tapping into those who experience the reality of the conditions that need to be properly monitored. Through direct dialogue with workers, an organisation can achieve unprecedented insight into the real processes and practices within their supply chain.

Responsible Trade Worldwide has developed a tool which offers this unique insight into global supply chains by capturing a top-down, bottom-up view of an organisation via worker assessments and metrics linked to employment practices and working conditions. By engaging workers we increase their awareness and perception of the workplace, enabling them to feel comfortable and confident to confidentially, and anonymously share their thoughts, feelings and views about their employer, and the surroundings in which they work.

Brands should start to highly consider delving into these ‘unethical’ places to not only minimise company risk, but to potentially change and better the lives of those who work within their supply chain.