Outdoor gear products (and especially their brands) are becoming increasingly popular today. Brands like Patagonia, The North Face, and Columbia are developing large followings due to their quality, durability, and cultural influence. However, as recently as 2011, Patagonia found forced labor within its supply chain. While their specific situation was remedied, it is still not perfect, nor are many other supply chains within the textile industry. It is extremely common for companies to not enforce their labor standards throughout the entire supply chain of a product, as explained below.
Why is this different than other trafficked goods?
Most outerwear companies enforce strict ethical standards for their suppliers’ labor practices, but the issue stems from the fact that these standards are generally not enforced throughout a brand’s entire supply chain. These supply chains are expansive, confusing, and tough to fully control. Dan Viederman, CEO of Verité, says that, “Most companies—not only apparel companies—focus on [labor standards at] tier one suppliers. They implicitly expect those suppliers to be cascading appropriate controls down the supply chain. But that implicit expectation does not translate into explicit practice”. This “Tier One” he is talking about refers to the different stages of production that goes into a product. A Tier One supplier is generally a company’s main contact, who will source their materials from a Tier 2 supplier, and so on. While a company may know everything about the materials they source from a Tier One supplier, they may not enforce their standards past that tier.
What can I do to help?
When deciding on your next purchase of outdoor gear, assign priority to the ethical production of that gear. This means no forced or child labor, no discrimination, and livable wages to workers making the product. The first step in purchasing outdoor gear is to ask yourself if you or the manufacturer can repair what you already own. If not, ask yourself if you can find what you’re looking for used. There are many organizations that offer used gear, such as Patagonia Worn Wear, North Face Renewed, and REI Co-op Used Gear. If that is not possible, do your best to shop responsibly and consider the quality of your purchase. Gear that will last you for many years of adventuring will prevent you from needing to buy gear again so early.
*Research conducted by Jackie Pondolfino, Fall 2018