Where, who, how and why not?
I started with six items of my outfit, from each item I tried to find out where it was made and if I could visit the production site. There were two companies from the six which were very open and happy to tell me everything I wanted to know. I was even invited (and tempted :-) to go to Brazil! These two companies were Veja and Erfolg.
Aurélie Dumont told me I could visit each part of the production cycle, this included the rubber plantation, the cotton plantation and also the factory. They organize every now and then trips with their employees to watch the production, this to make sure everybody knows why and how it's produced. I was invited to join one of those trips in the autumn, which I considered to be very generous.
If you want to see how their shoes are made and not go to Brazil for it, you can check this out.
Erfolg was the first one to respond, with a simple "yes, its possible to visit the production, but when?" And as you can see in the video on top, I did visit their factory in the end (which is actually not their own, but it's from their partner: Traxler).
And what can I say? Good working conditions, fairtrade, organic, co2 neutral, local (except the base materials). I couldn't find anything missing here, which I thought was quite impressive. And next to that, I can't say I dislike their clothes!
The funny thing is that they told me that since their production costs are so much higher then if they would produce in a low-wage country, that they don't have much budget left for advertisement. Hopefully for them people will love their clothes so much that it will spread by itself...
What about the others?
American Apparel seemed a little busy to get back to me. The good part is, you can have your own tour on their website and on Youtube, this gives an impression of how they work. Even though I couldn't get in touch with them, they seem very transparent about how they produce their garments.
Knowledge Cotton Apparel is a strange fish in this sea, somehow they didn't tell me much, regardless of my phoning and emailing. They produce in Turkey, but weren't very keen in giving me any more information or letting me visit their manufacturer. I know it might have been a strange question, but I had hoped they would live up to their brand name a little more. :-)
What about the other others?
Well, now it get's interesting. Hema's doors were a little closed (unless I wanted to shop). They won't provide any information about their manufacturers to anybody "in no way whatsoever". They say the competition could use this information in their favor and because they have so many manufacturers it would be very complex to find out where what is made. These are all reasons which can be found a solution for, but that's when "in no way whatsoever" started, because that really meant "no way whatsoever". :-)
I'm under the impression that they don't feel like sharing this information simply because they don't really know exactly how and in what kind of conditions their products are made. Hema is a huge, complex company which means it's difficult to keep track of everything and that's why they outsource checks and audits of their manufacturers to an 'independent' organization called the BSCI. This is an initiative from the Foreign Trade Association which "represents and defends the foreign trade interests of European commerce", Hema is again member of the FTA.
If I understand it well (correct me if I'm wrong), the factories of Hema are indirectly audited by an organization whose goal it is to promote and defend those corporations. This on it's own is not a bad thing, it becomes a little strange when next to that they don't allow any other organization, like for instance a really independent non-profit organization like SOMO to audit them.
Hema told me that their focus is to create good products for an acceptable price. How exactly is secondary to them. This doesn't mean child labor, abuse, etc are involved. But it also doesn't mean that they will focus on fair labor and good working conditions as their key points, simply because those aren't their main selling points.
And what about Mexx? Same same as Hema.
It seems to me that generally big companies have a tendency to lose their human touch. Each year they need to make more profit then last year because otherwise the stockholders won't be happy and this forces them to make decisions based on cost reduction only. Exactly that focus on trying to produce as cheap and with as much profit as possible is what causes a lot of the trouble. For this to change, companies need to be able to sell products which are maybe a little bit more expensive, but are produced in all fairness.
- Consume less. Overconsumption has many inconvenient side effects including lots of garbage, but this will also enable us to…
- Consume better. Buy products which have higher quality standards and from brands which are open and transparent. Better products will break less often which will enable us to again consume less, and buying from transparent brands will hopefully change the market bring ethics back into economics.
A special thanks to Walter Reinhard from Erfolg and Aurélie Dumont from Veja for being open, friendly and full of information. And of course thanks to Ingetje and Davide for their practical, physical and mental support!