Recently the Atlantic published an article detailing problems of human trafficking and other labor abuses in Patagonia’s supply chain and the efforts of Patagonia to address them.
The source of information about these problems is Patagonia’s own internal audit reports and although the reports are not public, discussion of main findings by the company represents more transparency than normally comes from large apparel companies.
Most prominent in the news are stories of working conditions in cut and sew factories, or first-tier suppliers. Most of the rest of the supply chain is invisible to consumers. According to the article:
“The status quo throughout the industry, both in internal audits and for many groups that monitor labor conditions for these brands, largely requires that companies only look at and remedy labor trafficking issues at their first-tier suppliers…. But that’s not where the bulk of problems exist. Labor violations are more rampant at the mills and parts manufacturers, which are often subcontracted to provide the materials for the first-tier factories.”
Patagonia is addressing its own supply chain by increased auditing throughout the supply chain and by asking more of its suppliers to address the worst abuses, for example employment standards addressing human trafficking.
Left out of this article, however, is the troubling relationship of Patagonia with Fair Trade USA (FTUSA). FTUSA in recent years has developed an apparel program that looks only at the final cut and sew factories before rewarding a “fair trade” label to brands. When Fair World Project asked them why they would leave out the rest of the supply chain, they responded that they focused on cut and sew because that is where the most problems were. Mounting evidence suggests this is not true and looking at only one aspect of the supply chain short-changes both workers and consumers, as we have detailed previously.
Patagonia is one of the most prominent adopters of the FTUSA “fair trade” program, which is particularly troubling given their own acknowledgement that there are problems deep within the supply chain, places FTUSA does not want to look. In Patagonia’s long and admirable journey, FTUSA is more likely to stand in the way than bring about fairness in the supply chain.