Ethical business practice is difficult to achieve – many businesses try to maintain ethical standards and conform to certain standards but doing so requires a great deal of consideration. In the retail industry, it is especially hard to do this but many small start-up businesses choose to operate this way as they are disgruntled with how larger business operate and they see it as a way to differentiate from the competition.
Ethical practices in the workplace
We have all seen news articles about horrific working conditions both in the UK and abroad in “Sweatshops” – Employees will work long hours in poor conditions for next to nothing in return. To ensure this doesn’t happen you could employ your own workforce on your premises so you can have full control over the working conditions and pay etc. If you do not have the means to employ internally, you could sub-contract the work out – Before doing so ensure you have chosen the right manufacturer and you could also ask to visit their factory beforehand or even pay an on the spot visit to check everything is as you would like.
Stock procurement and quality
Ensuring reasonable working conditions for your own workforce is one thing when dealing with fabrics and the actual stock you import to produce your garments is a separate issue and must also be given consideration. You can look for markers like Fair Trade or check with regulators in the industry to ensure your suppliers adhere to ethical standards.
Your carbon footprint
It is important to consider your carbon footprint and what impact your business has on this and the environment, however, complications can arise. For example, if you import products from a third world country the benefit to the economy and people of the village etc is great, but your relative carbon footprint could be extremely high. Aside from importing goods, there are many government grants available to turn your premises into a green haven and it is an ideal time to take advantage of such schemes. The greener your factory is, the less in return your carbon footprint becomes, and you can use this as a selling point of your ethical business.
Environmental issues and Sustainability
The fashion industry has been prone to many negative side-effects from its production and there are many fabrics that are not produced in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. Such examples are the production of Cotton where land can be cleared to accommodate its growth and the spraying of pesticides can affect the surrounding plant life and insects etc. Another damaging process is the production of materials used in leatherette and PVC fabrics – The toxins released can be harmful to the environment. Finally the use of real leather can be frowned upon if it is not sourced as a by-product of meat production – Rearing animals specifically for the production of leather is seen as cruel and deeply unethical, furthermore methane gas is seen as a detrimental factor in climate change.
To ensure you minimise the environmental impact of your production, you could consider using Cotton that is farmed organically or even use recycled fibres. Organically grown Cotton is usually procured on small farms who will use natural processes and also benefit the rural communities, while recycled fibres will be less destructive to the environment.
Ownership and group business
Simply finding an ethical supplier in the fashion industry to satisfy your ethical criteria may not be enough – In the business world there are often group businesses or small business who are owned by a larger corporation. Ensure you check your supplier’s background and see if they are owned by a holdings company or larger business – Just because the supplier has ethical practices, it does not automatically mean that their parent company does too! In the grand scale of business, part of your money paid to your supplier, will in turn translate as a profit to their parent company and in essence you may be unwillingly contributing to a business that operates with highly unethical standards!
There are many ways in the fashion industry unfortunately where animals are harmed or exploited in some way for their produce. Silk, wool, leather, plastics and fur are all items that have seen some form of unethical procurement in the past and there are businesses that still do not meet ethical standards even in Britain. The ethical standards and practices of these suppliers will vary from country to country, therefore, you must do your research to ensure you are being supplied by reputable companies. For instance, while UK companies have a strong reputation for ethical practices in the wool industry, there are other countries that fall way below common standards.
Doing the right thing
It may seem like hard work to maintain ethical standards throughout your business however as more people make a contribution and make a stand on their ethics, things will change and opinions will change. Event Accenture has proven the benefits of operating ethically by showing it can make profit. We as consumers often pay more for products that are produced ethically so it is definitely worth the effort!