Working Towards Reform

It’s bold to publicly announce the unhappy findings of a voluntary audit -- and it’s important to note that Patagonia is virtually alone in auditing its second-tier suppliers, far surpassing the standards set by the Fair Labor Association. These efforts at transparency shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the company has a blog, the Footprint Chronicles, dedicated to discussing its supply chain issues with complete candor.

The fact is that, despite its problems, Patagonia has gone to great lengths to reform its supply chain completely voluntarily. After learning of inhumane practices among its merino wool suppliers, for instance, Patagonia opted to completely terminate those partnerships. They’re now working with two U.S. suppliers based in Oregon and Utah, and have developed a new Responsible Wool Standard (RWS).

In Thailand, rather than cut ties with factories (and reduce crucial job opportunities for thousands of workers), Patagonia is instead working with them to completely eliminate exploitative brokerage fees and fully reimburse workers who have been unfairly charged; roughly 5,000 will receive compensation. While steps like these will increase short-term production costs, they will greatly improve the company’s long-term standing with suppliers, workers, and customers alike.

It’s an unfortunate, but very real, fact that the supply chains of nearly every global retailer are ethically dubious -- and as Patagonia has shown, it’s not glamorous to investigate those problems first-hand. But approaching supply chain reform with honesty and transparency sets a laudable precedent -- and hopefully, other retailers will soon follow suit.

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