Why R&D and design are now firmly a responsible business issue

Sandblasting of clothes, particularly denim, and the effects on human health was one of the campaigns last year to affect big brand retailers.

This was alongside Greenpeace’s largely successful Detox efforts.

But if the Clean Clothes Campaign’s latest document on the issue of sandblasting is right then the problem has not yet gone away.

Research and development practices and particularly design considerations ought be be firmly on the consumer brand agenda as a responsibility issue now.

Here’s why:

Fibre2Fashion reports the CCC as discovering that:

“One factory owner stated that it was impossible to produce some of the designs requested without the use of sandblasting. Indeed workers told researchers that they are told to switch to using sandblasting, even if a buyer has said it is not be used, if they are too close to production deadlines. Others stated that production was often carried out at night to avoid detection by inspectors and auditors.”

Let’s agree to leave aside the limits of audits versus helping factories run better businesses aside for a moment.

This sandblasting issue is a classic case of where we now see social and environmental issues colliding to help drive sustainable thinking much further back up the corporate value chains.

That’s a good thing without doubt.

Companies seeking to be pro-active in managing these risks could do a lot worse than look to the work done over many years by Nike on this issue.

Others I know about include Interface, Desso, Patagonia, P&G, Unilever, Natura, M&S, Seventh Generation, Ecover and Timberland.

Meanwhile the Sustainability Consortium may be set to play a key role here. Their challenge, as with all such groups, is not to become mired in what I call “lowest common denominator syndrome”. To think about that another way: an army marches at the pace of it’s slowest soldier.

For anyone interested in meeting experts and discussing these issues, Ethical Corporation is hosting a session on exactly this topic on May 8th in London. See more about it here. Companies involved include Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, Interface and Deckers Outdoor.

And on May 24/25 in Brussels, I’ll be leading some discussions with a variety of retailers on how we build support in businesses to tackle these issues. More on that is here.

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