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Patagonia is receiving some kudos for taking steps to clean up its supply chain. After investigating conditions in its supply chain, mostly at factories in Taiwan, it discovered all the usual problems, including forced labor and slavery. It has set new standards for its suppliers although a compliance mechanism is not really in place yet. Inspections are promised at least.

That’s all a positive step, but I must remain pessimistic that it will lead to much. Patagonia itself bragged that the Obama administration called them in to talk about these new plans, but Walmart was at the meeting as well and we know that it has taken a lead among American industry to do nothing about sourcing problems, including refusing to sign on to standards adopted by European companies in the wake of Rana Plaza. Walmart refused because it feared being held legally accountable.

So whatever Patagonia is doing may in fact be positive. But the point is that a) we won’t know except whatever the company tells us and b) it does not seem that workers themselves will have any power to demand dignified lives. The whole system exists upon the goodwill of Patagonia executives. No fundamental change to injustice can take place if it rests on the goodwill of the powerful. It must be codified into the legal code. If Patagonia really wants to take responsibility here, it needs to also work toward creating a system where not only it but its rivals will have their supply chains be accountable to legal frameworks to ensure that forced labor, unsafe working conditions, sub-minimum wage pay, and other terrible realities of the global race to the bottom are fixed.

I certainly hope Patagonia is taking real steps to improve the lives of the workers making its apparel. But we should not accept the company at its word, nor should we take comfort in the belief that corporations can meaningfully reform supply chain exploitation on their own.

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  • Jackov

    I thought the ‘Don’t Buy this Jacket’ ad was just a stunt but since 2011 is the year Patagonia learned, “there was modern slavery in our supply chain” perhaps it was an earnest warning.

    2010: Audits 90% of its suppliers, finds nothing wrong
    2011: Learns of the employment brokers
    2013: Modifies its corporate responsibility policy
    2014: Begins offering Fair-Trade certified apparel
    2015: Creates new worker standers ~4 years after learning about slavery

    Patagonia appears to be one of the better apparel companies but their oversight system was flawed and it took them ~4 years to come forward and fix the problem. Imagine how bad conditions are at factories producing for companies that do not give a shit.

  • Linnaeus

    all the usual problems, including forced labor and slavery.

    The fact that we can refer to forced labor and slavery as the “usual problems” in 2015 is, well, depressing.

  • Gregor Sansa

    I read about half of this post before I realized you were talking about the company and not the Argentine region. It might be good to make that clear at the start.

    • lotsabooks

      or have a 2nd cup of coffee ;-)

      edit (in general): christ, loomis, it’s already a depressing saturday. q: shall i be drunk by 2pm? a: i shall.

      • Ahuitzotl

        thats what Farleys bourbon piece was designed to accelerate.

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  • themann1086

    No fundamental change to injustice can take place if it rests on the goodwill of the powerful.

    I feel like this is the core of all labor problems, and the piece that most people either don’t understand or refuse to. I don’t care how nice the Waltons are to their friends or how much they donate to the arts. It’s like the “who would you have a beer with” criteria for voting for president; labor policy based on the perceived niceness of our corporate oligarchs!

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