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Procurement professionals in the garment industry need better engagement with factory workers if they are to be more sustainable.
That’s according to the owner of an ethical menswear brand who has said that one of the main problems in ethical sourcing is “we dehumanise our supply chain”.
Clare Lissaman, who is on the Ethical Fashion Forum board and co-founder and director of Arthur & Henry, was speaking at a debate held by Intelligence Squared on the ethics of throwaway fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
She said: “For me, part of the issue we have in trying to source sustainably or ethically is that we dehumanise our supply chain like it’s just a list of number on a piece of paper. But actually a trading relationship and engagement with the people who make our clothes is key.
“We know things about our factory. We know that people who have worked there for 20-odd years have started as helpers are now working as tailors. That’s a really good sign that it’s a good factory that treats its workers well.”
Lissaman added that the company even sends Christmas cards to all the factory workers.
“No customer has ever done that,” she said. “The factory workers say, ‘We’re just anonymous, you’re the only brand that has actually talked to us. It makes us really proud to be a tailor.’”
Lissaman explained that when setting up Arthur & Henry she looked at all parts of the supply chain from where the cotton is grown through to where it is made, packaged and sold.
“It gives us a very limited supply chain to use, but it means that impact on the environment is strictly controlled through standards,” she said.
Jenny Holdcraft, policy director at Industriall Global Union, called for fixed prices so that buyers cannot drive prices down too much.
“The whole idea is to take conditions out of competition so that every buyer has fixed costs,” she said. “The fixed costs are the wages, the health and safety, the hours of work. At the moment they are not fixed, they can be squeezed. That has got to stop.”
She added: “The factory workers in Bangladesh will tell you that they earn half of what they used to earn five years ago making the same product because they are being pushed by the buyers.”
However an audience member and former buyer added: “I think the buyers do have a huge responsibility but they are being pushed from above to get tighter margins.”