9 Things We Learned About Patagonia’s Efforts To Avoid All Exploited Labor

Image courtesy of Cheri Sundra

You can’t avoid it: along the entire supply chain of everything that you wear, someone has most likely been exploited. Just ask outdoorwear company Patagonia, which performed audits in 2011 all the way down its supply chain to look for exploited workers and victims of human trafficking. They found problems, which were not unexpected.

The Atlantic looked at the work that Patagonia is doing to improve conditions for everyone who produces the items they sell. Things are improving, but ensuring that hundreds of factories in multiple countries don’t exploit people is a huge task.

  1. While you might picture an exploited worker behind a sewing machine, they didn’t find problems in the factories that actually assemble merchandise for Patagonia. An audit four years ago turned up issues in the mills where fabrics for their clothing are made, which are mostly in Taiwan.
  2. Mills find their employees through brokers, and recruit throughout Asia. That’s not necessarily bad, but brokers can charge more than ten times a worker’s monthly wage, and mills handle workers’ money and automatically hand over fees to the brokers first.
  3. Mills also hold on to workers’ passports so they are unable to leave.
  4. There are 175 suppliers of fabric and parts for Patagonia items: they’re comfortable with the treatment of workers in factories, and now looking farther down the supply chain.
  5. Audits farther down the supply chain are rare, since there are so many suppliers and it’s easier to track the treatment of workers that a company does direct business with.
  6. Factory owners use labor brokers to save the expense of hiring directly: a company that wants to take responsibility for the whole supply chain would have to raise prices.
  7. Patagonia imposed a limit on broker fees in their supply chain after these audits four years ago, and has asked suppliers to ban them as of this month.
  8. Social responsibility is part of the company’s branding: companies that sell cheaper clothing or answer to shareholders can’t expect to meet the same standard right now.
  9. Why don’t they move production to the United States, where they can watch even more closely? Patagonia representatives say that there aren’t enough workers with the proper skills here, since most of our clothing is produced overseas.

All Your Clothes Are Made With Exploited Labor [The Atlantic]

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