Manufacturer – A Question Of Ethics

Recently, I was asked if we could supply ‘vegan leather’ and was sent a link to a website by the distributor. We discovered that vegan leather is actually made of water-resistant polyurethane and not leather, and is therefore made from petrochemicals, with associated environmental questions. If a distributor makes a claim for a product that isn’t correct and the end-user finds out, there could be huge ramifications, including legal ones.

If it’s a fake product it’s sensible to describe it as ‘faux’ then there is no doubt. Distributors and manufacturers are often asked to supply details of our factory audits or our suppliers’ factory audits. Sometimes they don’t exist, or the distributor is told not to worry as one can be ‘arranged’. I have seen factories with whole families sleeping and living on the floor under tables. Children as young as three or four workings in appalling conditions, and the children sent out and the mattresses removed when the European buyers arrive.

Often the workers are paid on piece rate and they work at night as it’s cooler. I was in Kolkata about 12 years ago when a factory owner locked his workforce into the factory for the night.

There was a fire and more than 30 fatalities. Social and ethical audits are there to protect all concerned but customers down the chain must understand that to run good factories with good compliance and a happy workforce carries a cost which will be reflected in the price of the goods. In my own factory, in addition to complying with all audit requirements, we also provide a cooked hot lunch.

That’s more than 2,000 lunches a week and we bus our workers to and from work. All I say to distributors is please ensure that you are dealing with correctly audited factories. Be safe, keep the workers safe and ensure audits are carried out by ethical bodies.

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