23 June 2005 | Anusha Bradley
Oxfam is to continue sourcing anti-poverty wristbands from China, despite concerns about ethical standards. But, the charity has stopped supplies from one manufacturer whose staff were found to be working under poor conditions.
The move follows national media reports that some "Make Poverty History" bands had been manufactured at the Tat Shing Rubber Mfg Company, which forced new workers to pay "financial deposits".
The coverage also reported how employees worked in unsuitable conditions and raised concerns over health and safety. Each of these points breached Oxfam's own Ethical Trading Initiative guidelines.
The charity has stressed how the "mistake" highlights the importance for buyers to ensure goods are sourced at plants where conditions meet minimum standards.
It now sources the wristbands from the Fu Zhou Xing Chun Trade company. A delegation is due to visit the factory today to ensure it is fully compliant with the organisation's ethical supplier standards. This follows a pre-production audit that raised concerns about health and safety and working hours.
Speaking to SM last week, Rachel Wilshaw, Oxfam purchasing strategy manager, challenged other organisations to double check details of product manufacture.
"We are aware that poor standards are endemic in China and many other countries," she said. But, she added, buyers should not rule out using Chinese plants.
"This should not mean a blanket rejection of sourcing in China. Instead we can work with the local company or factory to improve conditions. It is important that we engage to have a positive impact."
She stressed that none of the three million bands on sale were made at the Tat Shing factory, which produced a sample order of 10,000.
In a circular to suppliers, the charity admitted that "in hindsight, purchasing the sample before we had seen the full [Tat Shing] audit was a mistake".
Wilshaw said despite the bad publicity, sales have soared. "It's not a black-and-white issue with ethical purchasing. We have had letters of support from all over and I think the public recognise what we are trying to do."