In the second fortnightly podcast discussion between Earthworm Podcast host Scott Poynton and Innovation Forum founder Toby Webb the focus of discussion was on the interface between business and human rights – and the issue of modern day slavery. Listen to the podcast here.
Toby and Scott begin by discussing the launch of the new Earthworm.net website – which has been very warmly received so far. Scott also introduces the intention to bring people together to attend Earthworm Gatherings.
Discussion quickly turns to the subject of how real change happens and the importance of moments of clarity for key business leaders, or “Road to Damascus” moments as Toby puts it. Scott responds that this is one of the key focuses of the Earthworm project.
Scott then asks Toby to talk about his recently completed Sustainable Apparel Innovation Forum. Toby says there were four key takeouts from Ethical Fashion Forum founder Tamsin Lejeune‘s keynote to the Sustainable Apparel Innovation Forum.
1/ The environmental impact of Fashion continues to grow inspite of mitigation efforts
2/ Sustainability continues to be seen within the industry more as cost than as an opportunity
3/ The growing throwaway fashion business model ($5 t-shirts which people throw away rather than wash)
4/ The leadership challenge evident in the fact that much of the industry is not following the lead of the early adopters of sustainable and transparent supply chain practices
Modern Day Slavery
On May 5th Toby’s organisation was planning a corporate conference focussing on the Modern Slavery Act.
150 brands and companies were set to discuss compliance with the UK’s new “Modern Slavery Act”, a new law which requires businesses to consider the working conditions of workers within their supply chains.
In a preview to the conference Toby talks about how the UK’s legislation has successfully prompted several big companies to think about their responsibility to eradicate slavery from their supply chains.
The UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights adopted in 2011 get a mention as being another key driver in this area of corporate social responsibility, and Scott then raises a study by two Swiss NGOs which surveyed 200 Swiss companies to ascertain the attention they pay to human rights issues.
The results were a disappointing and Scott comments that the usefulness of legislation in this area is clear. Toby responds citing the California Transparency in Supply Chains ACT of 2011 as being the model for the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, and noting that the inclusion of the word “Slavery” in the title of the new UK Act has been particularly helpful in getting the attention of businesses.
“Yes, who wants slavery in their supply chain,” responds Scott Poynton.
Concluding the podcast Scott’s Certification Watch segment returns.
Scott shares a story about a big company celebrating how many pairs of jeans it had been selling – a lot. Scott contacts the company asking where they get their cotton from. Someone swiftly responds with the answer that 50% of their cotton is already certified under the BCI (Better Cotton Initiative). By 2020 the other 50% will be too.
Scott then asks, “but where does the cotton come from?”
BCI cotton certification works on a “Mass Balance” basis. The same method of netting off certified products is also used in the Palm Oil certification scheme run by the RSPO .
Under this method of certification there is no guarantee that child labour is not involved in the cotton in any pair of jeans.
Instead all that is assured is that the total amount of jeans sold containing BCI certified cotton by this maker was coverred by a corresponding amount of certified cotton purchased by the suppliers who sold cotton to the jeans company. Under the commonly used “Mass Balance” certification metgod all the cotton is processed together and there is no traceability.
“I never did find out where the cotton comes from and my suspicion is that the company probably doesn’t know where its cotton comes from.”
Toby then notes that many companies are mistakenly under the impression that the certification schemes they use are so good that they don’t need to worry about the corporate social responsibility issues anymore. Brands and management are effectively hiding their responsibility behind certification.
“Companies need to realise that certification alone is not enough. They need to know more about what is going into their products,” he says.
COMING UP NEXT: In the next episode of the Scott Poynton and Toby Webb Cooee podcast there will an update about what happened at the May 5th “Modern Slavery” conference and some more certification watch material from Scott.