Transparency in the supply chain, environmental impact and enshrining workers rights are what keeps me up at night, these are the key tenants to an ethical business but there is little appetite and many barriers to developing internationally recognised certification that works for smaller businesses. Putting yourself out there as an ethical business, indeed an impact business directly focussing on women’s empowerment, you know that you are always one small step away from a fall.
Customers are buying our products partially because of the impact in has on the communities we work with. Passionate about women’s empowerment we need to ensure safe working practices, living wages are paid and the environmental impact both for the women’s working conditions and for the health of the planet are as stringent as possible.
However, there is little stoping anyone calling themselves an ethical business. I met a company not so long ago making relatively expensive jackets, claiming to be an ethical company I was intrigued as to how they track supply chain of the raw materials, how they ensure workers are being paid a living wage and working appropriate hours in good working conditions – what I assume to be key tenants of an ethical business. The reply astounded me, they give £1 of every jacket sold (that is less than 0.5% of the cost of the jacket) to a charity – they do not check the supply chain or the workers rights within the factory where they are made and yet, and yet they publicly claim to be ethical.
There are a number internationally recognised labels for ethical businesses, including Fair Trade, B Corp, Ethical Trading Initiative and Made-By. However, other than Fair Trade, which is mainly associated with food, there is little consumer recognition. In addition to this, any form of certification looking at complex supply chains is by definition a lengthy and expensive process, with costs running into thousands of pounds. With little consumer expectation and exorbitant fees preventing small traders from engaging in this process there is little wonder that anyone can purport to be ethical without any recourse.
Ultimately, as consumer awareness of the issues within the clothing business grows and more and more small traders from all over the world are able to trade internationally with the support of organisations like So Just Shop, we need to find a solution to this issue. So Just Shop is currently developing a mobile app to track supply chain, it’s not the whole solution but one small step to support our women-led artisans and give reassurance to consumers buying our products.