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Ethical Workwear Procurement and Supply Chain Transparency

Ethical Workwear Procurement and Supply Chain Transparency
03 June 2021 | Updated 14 July 2021

Knowing where and how your organisation's corporate workwear is sourced, manufactured, transported and stored is increasingly being considered as part of its own value system.

Research from Sodexo shows that two-thirds (66 per cent) of business leaders say they have already started replacing suppliers in the last year that don’t live up to their diversity and inclusion values and 65 per cent said they have parted ways with supply chains that do not align with their own environmental policies over the last year.

Supply chain transparency and ethical production are no longer marketing buzzwords but corporate commitments demanding the attention of businesses across a broad spectrum of industries. Consumers, non-governmental organisations, governments and other stakeholders are ramping up the pressure and the consequences of failing to share supply chain-related information are mounting.


"Workwear is an area often overlooked by companies, especially cleaning contractors who employ large numbers of people and therefore get through tonnes of garments each year."

–Dominic Ponniah

CEO, Cleanology


Corporate Workwear and CSR


Tragedies such as the Rana Plaza disaster leading to the Bangladesh Accord, the 2018 Transition Accord and the RMG Sustainability Council, offer a grave reminder that businesses need to know where and how their corporate workwear is sourced, manufactured, transported and stored.

Workwear procurement forms part of a company’s corporate social responsibility strategy as its suppliers' ethical standards are increasingly considered as part of its own value system. Businesses should ensure that their workwear suppliers use procedures to minimise social and environmental impacts, factory workers are safe, and working conditions are fair and hygienic.


Made in Europe


Global footwear manufacturer, HAIX, made a corporate responsibility promise over seventy years ago focussed on ‘Made in Europe’ manufacturing, which encompasses fair working conditions, sustainable practices and modern testing facilities.

The "Made in Europe" label was created to demonstrate that a product was manufactured following European regulations, making products safer and less damaging to the environment. However, European regulations can be lax and repeatedly allow for loopholes. For example, if the upper and sole of a shoe are put together in an EU member state, the shoe is allowed to bear the "Made in Europe’" label – regardless of whether the two components were originally manufactured in Asia or Africa.

HAIX shoes, however, are 100 per cent manufactured in Europe and adhere to socially responsible guidelines. Looking for the label is one thing, but businesses still need to ask questions, for example, where different product parts are manufactured and put together.

Although European manufacturing is frequently associated with higher costs, HAIX chooses Europe because regulations protect worker rights and ensure a certain level of environmental and social consideration. For example, leather tanneries in certain parts of the world use toxic chemicals and dyes that place workers at risk of cancer, eczema, blindness and asthma and put the environment at risk of pollution should these harmful substances transfer to water waste.


Fair Wear Uniforms


UK cleaning and FM firm Cleanology operates a "fair wear uniform policy" for their staff, to ensure this element of their business remains as ethical and environmentally sound as possible. CEO and founder Dominic Ponniah told us:

"Workwear is an area often overlooked by companies, especially cleaning contractors who employ large numbers of people and therefore get through tonnes of garments each year. We have made the conscious decision to spend more money on our uniforms by choosing fully sustainable ‘fair wear’ uniforms, made from organic cotton and 2.5 recycled plastic bottles each.

"This saves over 7,000 plastic bottles a year from going into landfill. If this were replicated across the industry, which employs over half a million people, the cleaning industry could make a huge contribution towards sustainability. For us, what our supply chains do is as important as we do. Our choice of supply chain should reflect our own high standards. It’s about everyone doing their little bit.”



Driving Social Value One Supplier at a Time 


Another business driving social value through their supply chain is Rowlinson Knitwear, a Certified B Corporation which won The Planet Mark’s Best Company award in 2020.

Rowlinson has achieved the highest verified standards in social and environmental performance. While the company has an embroidery team based in Stockport in the UK and outsources to a small number of UK-based embroidery companies when the volume requires it, it also has four longstanding offshore manufacturing partners in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Egypt, and Rowlinson is working closely with them to embed the same values, ethos, high quality and safe environments for the future. These factories are fully compliant with all health, safety and child labour regulations, choosing to work with partners who are morally sound.

Rowlinson Knitwear also supplies 182 women with sanitary products in its overseas factories on a monthly basis as they have no access to this, plus it provides education around reproductive and sexual health. This is all conducted under the ETI Base Code (ETI is the Ethical Trading Initiative, a global body for improvements in workers’ rights and the ETI Base Code is the standard the company works to). This is the exact opposite of the sweatshops some fashion retailers employ, and by ensuring ethical behaviour throughout the entire supply chain, this ultimately impacts the business in the UK.


What Does the Future of Workwear Production Look Like?


Both suppliers and buyers will need to demonstrate ethical practices to ensure products are being manufactured in a responsible and sustainable way, that the workers involved are treated fairly and safely, and environmental and social impacts have been considered. It will be no longer be a "nice to have" but a necessity as a businesses’ employees, customers and other stakeholders demand action against issues such as climate change, modern slavery and achieving a circular economy. 

Picture: a photograph of a worker holding a HAIX pair of shoes

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 03 June 2021


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