Factory Labor Abuse and our Favorite Brands

Analisa

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Outside Mag did a really strong piece on fair labor (or lack thereof) from some of the most respected, priciest, and most innovative outdoor companies. Social Responsibility is super complex. Companies don't own their factories, there are usually layers of sourcing agents and parent companies between brands and their factories. Bribery, threats, and corruption impact both how honest interviewed employees are with auditors and how honest auditors are on their reports (since auditors are mostly 3rd parties as well). There are tons of auditing companies and associations that brands/factories/parent companies can join to give off the impression they're committed to fair labor.

And to boot, the solution is far from easy - the issue isn't a shortage of audits or willingness to move production once problems arise. The most impactful steps involve building relationships with factories and being invested in their communities, which gets challenging when you've got layers of distance and over 50 suppliers spread out across the globe (who are themselves, working with 50+ versions of you).

But the most important thing we can do as consumers is voice that we care. Talk about it, send an email, tweet, or slide into your brand of choice's DMs. Feels insignificant, but it works. And when possible, lean into the suppliers who are really trying (shocker, shoutout to Patagonia) and are vocally self-critical about the fact that there's still work to do.
 

CalG

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Shocker!

The world is NOT FAIR!

Lions eat gemsbok!
 

martyg

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Would love to know the writer’s resume looks like, and if they have spent much time working in Asia. I suspect that they are a journalist. It doesn’t indicate in his bio.

Personally, I have several years of working with, and in, Youngone. However all has been on the cut & sew side.
 
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Jed

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I'm afraid we all bare responsibility. If we want to ensure fair labor practices, buy products manufactured in the U.S., but be prepared to pay double for a garment or shoe. I'm not sure what these companies can do. It's not the practice of many American consumers to compare places of manufacture. Most compare price. Competing on price requires cheap labor. And they're way over there, and we're way over here. An audit every 18 months, which is announced and planned, will rarely reveal misdeeds. They are way over there, and we're way over here. It's also questionable to tell a developing nation that it has to adopt policies of the post-industrial world. Physical threats or name calling is not part of the #metoo movement in Bangladesh. I just finished watching a George Washington mini-series on the History channel and learned that he had soldiers, who were demanding three years of back pay and were willing to march to Philadelphia to get it from congress, not only name their leaders but shoot them dead. Colin Powell defended these actions as necessary but certainly not tolerable in this day and age, without even a trial.
 

Yo Momma

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I just finished watching a George Washington mini-series on the History channel and learned that he had soldiers, who were demanding three years of back pay and were willing to march to Philadelphia to get it from congress, not only name their leaders but shoot them dead. Colin Powell defended these actions as necessary but certainly not tolerable in this day and age, without even a trial.
Good post. Pardon the minor hijack but for another rather interesting look at GW and U.S. History try this read: "In The Shadow of Liberty" by Kenneth C. Davis. He is also the author of NY Times Bestseller and very entertaining read "Don't Know Much About History". Amazing reads that follow in the spirit of this thread.


 

luliski

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I'm afraid we all bare responsibility. If we want to ensure fair labor practices, buy products manufactured in the U.S., but be prepared to pay double for a garment or shoe. I'm not sure what these companies can do. It's not the practice of many American consumers to compare places of manufacture. Most compare price. Competing on price requires cheap labor. And they're way over there, and we're way over here. An audit every 18 months, which is announced and planned, will rarely reveal misdeeds. They are way over there, and we're way over here. It's also questionable to tell a developing nation that it has to adopt policies of the post-industrial world. Physical threats or name calling is not part of the #metoo movement in Bangladesh. I just finished watching a George Washington mini-series on the History channel and learned that he had soldiers, who were demanding three years of back pay and were willing to march to Philadelphia to get it from congress, not only name their leaders but shoot them dead. Colin Powell defended these actions as necessary but certainly not tolerable in this day and age, without even a trial.
I hope @Tony S doesn't read this one, lol.
 

Pat AKA mustski

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Most compare price. Competing on price requires cheap labor.
Not entirely true. Stockli and Kastle have both been able to maintain a pretty fair market share of the ski industry and at a pretty high price point comparatively. They have kept their manufacturing at home. Admittedly, Kastle was just bought out by a Czech national so ... we'll see. Frankly, I think cost is a poor excuse used by manufacturers for taking their production to third world countries where labor is practically free. Skiers will pay for a quality product. I think Liberty and DPS are following this model and becoming quite successful.

ETA: I love Patagonia but it's darn expensive considering it is manufacturing in 3rd world countries!
 
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Scruffy

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I love Patagonia but it's darn expensive considering it is manufacturing in 3rd world countries!
True, but I love that they warranty their items for life, that costs. And their ethics are about the best you can get these days.

Check this guy's take on Patagonia. You gotta get by all the schtick, but it's go some illumination. I love the Patagonia repair van that will repair any brand apparel for free, just to keep it out of the land fill. Love that Pata will take back and recycle old apparel.

 

martyg

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Not entirely true. Stockli and Kastle have both been able to maintain a pretty fair market share of the ski industry and at a pretty high price point comparatively. They have kept their manufacturing at home. Admittedly, Kastle was just bought out by a Czech national so ... we'll see. Frankly, I think cost is a poor excuse used by manufacturers for taking their production to third world countries where labor is practically free. Skiers will pay for a quality product. I think Liberty and DPS are following this model and becoming quite successful.

ETA: I love Patagonia but it's darn expensive considering it is manufacturing in 3rd world countries!
Just because they are manufactured at home doesn't insure environmental and / or social compliance. First, you have to understand your materials supply chain from cradle to finished product - for all of your suppliers. Second, labor in Eastern Europe is cheap. Check out the supply and manufacturing processes for your ski boots.

With Patagonia (and virtually every other high-end brand) there are very, very few cut & sew facilities in the US that can handle their level of quality. Most consumers have a quaint image of US manufacturing being little old grey haired grandma's obsessing over details. I could drop you in virtually any cut & sew operation in the US, tell you that you were in Asa. You'd look around and say, "Yeah. OK".

Virtually 100% of the best quality cut & sew operations in the US employ overseas talent (there are a few exceptions in Mid-Atlantic). I can say with absolute certainty, that on the West Coast they work their manufacturing shift, work nights in food industry or house cleaning, live 12 to an apartment, and send their money home to the families.

With very few exceptions, we simply do not have a US workforce that can match overseas quality. Then you have the issue of where fabric, zippers, buttons, thread - virtually everything that goes into a garment - are made.

Finally, with Patagonia, Someone has to pay for their commitment to environmental and social compliance. It costs money to buy plane tickets, have staff stationed around the world overseeing various compliance and QA issues, visit all suppliers, etc. The total commitment that Patagonia makes is no inexpensive.
 

Jed

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Not entirely true. Stockli and Kastle have both been able to maintain a pretty fair market share of the ski industry and at a pretty high price point comparatively.
I think you're right about some segments of skiing, looking for a premium product. As has been pointed out, that may or may not convert to more sustainable or ethical product.

As long as there is outsourcing it will be difficult to ensure compliance. It sounds as if Stockli and Kastle may have dedicated company factories. I wonder if that could be done in the garment industry in a developing country.
 

Jed

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Good post. Pardon the minor hijack but for another rather interesting look at GW and U.S. History try this read: "In The Shadow of Liberty" by Kenneth C. Davis. He is also the author of NY Times Bestseller and very entertaining read "Don't Know Much About History". Amazing reads that follow in the spirit of this thread.
Thanks for the referrals.
 
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