How do you know your supply chain hasn't been tainted with child labour? Accreditation system and charity foundation Child Labor Free (CLF) wants to help businesses show consumers that their supply chains are free from child labour. After two years in the making, it has just launched and already has New Zealand Fashion Week on board as a partner. Fashion brands such as Hailwood, Kate Sylvester, Nom*D, Ruby and Stolen Girlfriends Club are piloting the accreditation system.
“We have not tested on animals and we have cruelty free,” Pratt says.
“We’ve always supported those because were animal people. We know about animals and we care about them, but there is nothing that tells us that we care about children. That’s really wrong.”
The business partners decided that if they couldn’t find a consumer fronting audit system for child labour, they’d create one themselves.
“We’ve never done anything by half,” Prendergast says.
“It’s boots in, all in. We went to the lawyer and said, ‘How do we do this?’”
Prendergast says CLF is not about going after businesses and naming and shaming them.
Instead, it’s a way for brands to adapt to the age of transparency, she says.
“There’s enough of the naming and shaming stuff going on and that probably has its place, but we think we can make substantial change by engaging businesses early and bringing them on the journey with us. It’s a positive experience for them.”
Pratt agrees and says she personally is a massive consumer.
“It’s about giving people an informed choice,” Pratt says.
“We’re not anti-consumers, were actually pro-consumers. It’s conscious consumerism.”
The pair began the journey in 2013 and went through an extensive process sorting out the legal side of things, creating the CLF trademark, the ecommerce portal and mobile application.
They also got EY, Saatchi & Saatchi and DLA Piper on board as partners.
One initial problem they had to tackle was defining the line between children doing harmless work versus labour.
“Work is great and important if it doesn’t negatively impact on a child’s health, social life, school and wellbeing,” Prendergast says.
She gives the example of paper runs or helping out on the farm before school.
However, labour negatively impacts on all of those aspects, so that is how they defined it.
The official CLF definition is: “Work undertaken by a child, which the child is legally prohibited from undertaking; or is likely to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development; or interferes with a child’s education.”
“It needed to be legally defendable, especially from a businesses perspective,” Pratt says.
“We’ve got to be able to defend the definition and consumers have to understand it.”
The CLF accreditation system works by businesses going to its website, creating a login that verifies whether they are a real business, and then uploading data.
The data includes the sites of factories, their size, and how many people are working there versus how many items are made.
There’s also a risk profile and if a company fits it, a physical site inspection will be carried out and then following that, repeat visits.
Prendergast says the website has been built to international data safety standards to protect companies’ commercially sensitive data.
Businesses will pay a licensing fee to use the trademarked CLF mark on their products.
The licensing fee goes towards the CLF not-for-profit foundation, which uses the money for projects that support communities that have removed child labour.
“We never wanted unintended consequences,” Pratt says.
“The reality is they’re in labour because their families are in horrendous poverty situations.”
The mark is owned and trademarked by the foundation, so Pratt says it will continue to generate income to help those communities forever.
As for consumers, they can search for CLF accredited products on the website on the mobile application by country, product or category.
Pratt and Prendergast say consumer awareness around supply chains has increased since the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh during 2013.
“I think people have known about it for a little while, but they weren’t ready to know about it,” Prendergast says.
“Then that building collapsed and people really had to care. It’s easier not to know about it [but] you couldn’t not know.”
“There’s been quite a significant shift [in consumers caring], it’s almost the new clean and green,” Pratt says.
Dr Amabel Hunting, a professor at Auckland University and an expert in consumer behaviour and ethical consumption, says ethical consumers are no longer a niche group.
"Recent research has found an increasing number of consumers across the market are concerned about these issues," Hunting says.
"This is especially true among the younger generation; they care about how workers are treated and will reward brands that share information on their supply chain."
Sales in fair trade goods grew 28 percent in 2014, while a 2014 Colmar Brunton survey found 90 percent of Kiwis want to buy ethically and socially responsible products.
Pratt says the CLF accreditation provides a way for brands to show consumers they care and are eliminating bad practices from their supply chain.
“There’s companies that are going through stringent supply chains, but you wouldn’t know as a consumer as they don’t have a way to tell people,” she says.
“If you spent hours and days on the internet, you might know. But there’s nothing that tells you with certainty.”
The CLF accreditation is unique because it’s consumer fronting, so the mark can be shown to consumers on companies’ product tags, websites and in store.
Pratt says for retailers, it means that it’s an incentive for people to choose their CLF-accredited products over another.
“It’s a huge point of difference,” she says.
CLF has recently partnered with New Zealand Fashion Week to host a consumer launch later in the year.
It has some of the biggest New Zealand fashion designers on board to pilot the accreditation system, including Kate Sylvester, Nom*D, Ruby and Stolen Girlfriends Club.
Prendergast says beyond this group, CLF is in conversation with local and global brands across many industries, including furnitures, toys, textiles and skincare.
For the future, the ladies want to see their mark become an expectation for consumers to find on products, just like free range and cruelty free products.
“That would be our measure of success. You’d see it on every piece of clothing,” Prendergast says.
Pratt says the long-term goal is to be able to support projects internationally and tell stories with the brands that have made a difference in the world using CLF.
“If we can encompass that, we leave a legacy that’s really meaningful for society. That’s our end goal.”