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The apparel supply chain is made up of several tiers of production, and it’s difficult for retailers to have visibility into all of them. While some might imagine the sewing factory as where clothes are made, there’s an extensive network of fabric mills, processors, and finishers upstream from these factories without which there would be nothing to sew.
In 2011, Patagonia began to fully map its supply chain beyond sewing factories to learn who is involved in making the fabrics that are essential to our products. We conducted social responsibility audits on key suppliers, which led to an uncomfortable truth. We found that many of our supplier partners were employing foreign migrant workers who paid thousands of dollars to a third-party recruiter for the right to work.
The exorbitant fees put workers at high risk for bonded and forced labor, which is further exacerbated by living in a foreign country where these workers lack the support to get out of such situations. The practice of charging recruitment fees is legal in countries around the world, but it is against Patagonia’s workplace values and principles. Rather than walking away from these suppliers and leaving workers helpless, we committed to remediation and deployed a multipronged approach to improve such conditions.
The Journey Toward Remediation
We view the protection of migrant worker rights as everyone’s responsibility.
Patagonia’s approach centers around strategic collaboration with key stakeholders that drive changes from within a company and those that help drive systemwide change across the apparel-manufacturing sector.
This involves the following:
- Internal alignment: We ensure that Patagonia’s cross-functional supply chain teams understand the issues, so that we can convey the importance of remediation and incentivize suppliers to make improvements.
- Supplier partnership: Change cannot happen without action from suppliers. Therefore, it is critical for us to gain our suppliers’ commitment to address migrant worker issues and show them our commitment to working together.
- Brand and industry collaboration: We work with leading apparel brands to communicate and implement similar responsible recruitment requirements to give manufacturers a greater business incentive to address the issues.
- External engagement: We encourage governments, non-governmental organizations, industry associations, and consumers to play a role in strengthening businesses’ commitment to support migrant worker rights.
Actions taken within each of these areas have led to significant benefits and protections for workers.
Program Implementation Strategy
We ensure that Patagonia’s cross-functional supply chain teams understand the issues, so that we can convey the importance of remediation and incentivize suppliers to make improvements.
- Leadership support
- Sourcing team support
- Joint departmental messaging
- Resources for staff to manage program
Here is one example that brought together several partners over a five-month period and resulted in 171 workers at a factory in Thailand receiving more than $100,000 back in previously paid recruitment fees and an end to the practice.
This example and others like it in our supply chain have shown us the power of collaboration. Working with our suppliers, industry peers, and civil society, we will continue to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.