Many consumers believe that big business is the cause of all ethical trade issues, & that not enough is being done to improve practices. If you’ve read the papers over the last decade you could be forgiven for assuming so. But that doesn’t by proxy mean that small or local businesses are good, & that conditions within their supply chain are perfect.
First of all, small businesses lack the resource required to ensure ethical trade. They are less likely to have the time to ensure the engagement & relationship building with suppliers that is necessary to fully understand the conditions of work, or to ensure the level of trust needed to make sure that the information received is a true picture of what goes on. There is a hell of a lot of audit fraud that takes place throughout the supply chain.
Further to this – they just don’t have the spend volume to assert any requirements on their suppliers. There have been cases where suppliers refuse to improve conditions on the basis that the money they earn from the contract isn’t worth it. They could lose the contract & still be fine. & so in this sense, small businesses have a lot less leverage than their larger counterparts.
At most, a small business who claims to be ethical will generally have liaised with the supplier they have a contractual relationship with (or what is known as a first tier supplier). This is great & they should be commended for doing so. However, research shows that risk normally happens further down the supply chain – perhaps at the second or third tiers. This makes it crucial to engage with suppliers right down to source – for example not just the factories, but the cotton spinners & growers who contribute to your cute AF dress 💅
Thanks to the efforts of big business (who have been working to improve practices for over 10 years), what we increasingly see is something that the ILO terms ‘islands of privilege’. This is where first tier suppliers have received masses of training & funding in order to improve practices, but this is yet to extend solidly further down the chain. Providing an adequate amount of training, engagement & funding is near impossible for small businesses to attain on their own.
In addition to this, we put a very high premium on how suppliers are working, but have you ever stopped to ask one of these small businesses about their own conditions of work or whether they themselves are working an 8-hour day? I did, & they said no, & we all laughed. Because anyone who has ever set up their own business knows full well that an 8-hour day doesn’t get you very far. Try 15 a day for 4-5 years & you might just break even.
So what can you do?
💖 Educate yourself on ethical trade & the nature of complexities
💖 Ask small businesses what they are doing with suppliers, what expectations they are setting & how far down the chain they are able to trace (any amount is good!)
💖 Ask to see their supply chain information
💖 Find out which regions businesses are sourcing from, & do your homework on what that is likely to mean
💖 Read the CSR reports of the corporations that you care about, & demand more information & detailed approaches
💖 Campaign for big businesses to work with small businesses, to share data & leverage conditions
💖 Demand the same rights that we expect within the supply chain within your own workplaces
💖 I want more Consumer Myths
💖 I want more Ethical Fashion
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