'You can't hide factory scandals', warns Adidas CSR chief

10 February 2012

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10 February 2012 | Paul Snell

You cannot hide scandals at supplier factories because campaign groups will always uncover them, according to the head of corporate social responsibility at Adidas.

According to Frank Henke, global director, group social and environmental affairs at the sportswear manufacturer, NGOs and similar organisations are so well connected that problems at companies will ultimately be discovered.

Explaining his company’s decision to disclose its global supply base, he told delegates at the Sustainable Supply Chains event in London yesterday: “The reason why we have disclosed our supplier database plus all the authorised suppliers is simply the lessons we learnt over the last decade. Today international labour rights groups are so well connected, they are able to identify every issue - you cannot hide any factory scandal.”

Adidas publishes a full list of its suppliers on its website and is the only vendor involved in the London 2012 merchandise supply chain to have disclosed the location of every factory involved in production.

He explained how Adidas has set up a worker hotline managed by a Chinese NGO for factory workers in the country to report concerns about working practices. “We get these concerns channelled back to us and it gives us a good indicator how well factories are doing, but it would be simply not true to state that everything goes okay in the factory. But the question is how transparently you try to address and raise these issues and the first step is to be transparent.”

There was also a warning from Julian Kirkby, lead campaigner at Friends of the Earth, that NGOs would be taking their investigations further. “[NGOs] are increasingly aware it’s not just the companies that are making claims that we should be looking at and checking, but actually it is those who aren’t making those and trying to keep their heads below the radar.”

Henke also stressed the importance of joint working between industry partners and collaborators to improve sustainability at suppliers. “We have definitely spent too much time in the past 10 years developing individualised or tailored solutions,” he said. “It’s more important to share findings, build critical leverage and to drive change.”

Tamsin Gane, sustainable procurement manager at Sodexo, said her company understood the importance of ensuring vendors were “living and breathing” sustainable values but was struggling to work out how to do this without adding huge cost to the supply chain – favouring collaboration. “You need to avoid duplication, and that’s the key to reducing the cost of the audits,” she said.

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