Kiwi outdoor apparel company Kathmandu has joined brands like Patagonia, Columbia and Nike in achieving accreditation from the Fair Labor Association (FLA). It’s the first company in the Southern Hemisphere to do so.
Gary Shaw, Kathmandu’s corporate social responsibility manager, says the accreditation is “a huge deal” for the company.
To achieve FLA accreditation, Kathmandu implemented global best-practice solutions across workplace standards, business and supplier training, grievance and remediation protocol, monitoring, responsible purchasing practices, consultation with civil society institutions and a range of verification and program requirements.
Among the measures it put in place is a WeChat-based grievance mechanism for workers, which allows factory workers to place feedback in their own language on a platform that’s familiar to them.
The company was previously operating to a high ethical standard, achieving an ‘A’ grade in the latest Ethical Fashoion Report from Baptist World Aid.
Shaw says the need for accreditation was driven by consumer demand.
“There’s just a growing wave of consumers expressing a desire to know where their clothes come from and who made them.”
He sees a clear need to position Kathmandu as a leader in sustainability, and remove “doubt or question where these [items] come from” in the minds of consumers.
“It just communicates that we’re serious about our values.”
Shaw believes the rise in consumer demand for ethically-produced clothing is a change that’s permanent and will reward significant investment from retailers.
“I don’t think it is a fad, I think it’s a rise in consciousness and a maturity, perhaps.”
“We live in a global village now.”
Younger consumers and Millennials are particularly aware of the issues at hand, Shaw says. A recent customer survey carried out by Kathmandu reported that supply chain issues are now shoppers’ number one concern.
Shaw says some corporations shy away from rigorous investigations of their supply chains out of fear that they may uncover a complicated issue that they’d rather not deal with, but this uncertainty is an unavoidable fact of life.
“Often, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
“When you start this journey, you have an idea and you hope it’s okay.”
Other retail companies prefer to eschew third-party certification schemes in favour of self-management. Of this approach, Shaw says: “I don’t think that’s realistic.”
“Responsible sourcing can often be misunderstood as an external obligation, some kind of duty that we have to do or should do, rather than a reflection of the company’s values.”
However, Shaw says, maintaining an ethical supply chain should be a “natural response of why the company was formed in the first place.”
“Not ticking boxes to protect the brand, but making a positive change in the world.”
“It changes everything because you’re not afraid of finding bad stuff.”