An Ethical Supply Chain for NZ-made Clothing?
Posted on July 10 2017
It's no secret that we have fantastic customers. In the 21 months since we opened we have honestly not had one negative encounter with a customer. I also appreciate that our customers challenge and question me to ensure we are constantly reflecting and sticking to our core values! Last week I received this email:
Thanks so much for your email! When I first started planning Freedom Kids, my focus came from a feminist perspective and I was primarily looking at ‘gender neutral’ clothes. Of course, as I learnt more about the textile and clothing industry I quickly realised that it would be hypocritical of me to stock clothes made in sweatshops while fronting a brand promoting better treatment of NZ kids.
I quickly realised that deciding on the levels of "ethicalness" is fraught! Is organic and fairtrade and made in India better than non-organic and made in NZ? Is it significantly better for us to support small-scale suppliers rather than bigger businesses? Is it OK to stock non fair-trade certified but certified organic clothing knowing the owner of the business and fully trusting their transparency? Or NZ women sewing for me but using non organic/fairtrade cotton/materials? Or a small NZ business run by a woman that has organic clothing manufactured in India?... And then of course there are so many different certifications and ‘levels’ of ethics.
I decided that my main base criteria for the clothes we stocked was that the garments had to be ethically made. By this I mean that all our clothing suppliers ensure that the people making the clothes comply with internationally agreed labour rights. These include:
- employees are not children
- employment is freely chosen
- payment of a living wage
- secure employment
- safe and healthy working conditions
- working hours are not excessive and overtime is voluntary
- freedom from sexual harassment, discrimination or verbal and/or physical abuse
- workers are able to speak out and defend and improve their own labour rights through freedom of association to join a trade join and bargain collectively.
Most of our overseas-made clothing is Fair Trade Certified: Fair Trade is an organized movement that promotes standards for international labour, environmentalism, and social policy in areas related to production of goods. We acknowledge that full Fair Trade certification takes time, energy and money, so do work with some small businesses without certification that have transparent production processes. Our ethically-made clothing also includes people producing locally in New Zealand or on small scales in OECD or EU countries with minimum labour standards including minimum wage and conditions for employees.
(Finally getting to your question!). Columbine is the only hosiery left in NZ, based in Gisborne and are a relatively big local employer, so I was very keen to support them. Some details about their raw materials:
- Merino wool is sourced from a supplier who has been a bluesign® system partner since 2001
- Cotton suppliers have signed the Better Cotton Initiative and are Oeko tex Standard 100 class1 certified
- Hosiery yarn supplier has been Oeko tex Standard 100 class1 certified since 1995 and in 2009 it became the first European polyamide 6.6 manufacturer to have obtained the EU Ecolabel for environmental excellence.
- Cardboard packaging supplier whose product is made from sustainable cut forests
I hope I answered your question – I really appreciate your email as it’s good to continually revisit these questions to ensure we are sticking to our values and to check if we can do better.
*this letter has been edited to add more information for publication.