Companies often avoid making claims that they may not be able to uphold, for example “zero bribery” or “no instances of modern slavery”, and instead cite their commitment to transparency. Which does not mean that these things are not happening. Transparency is being coined left right and centre as an accolade, a selling point in itself, which is misleading. Visibility is not great, it is essential to identifying human rights issues. What is great, is having no issues. So, next time you hear that something is “transparent”, you should ask exactly what information is collected so that at the very least, this claim can be supported.
Questions need to be asked of all partners, businesses you shop with, companies you are sourcing from:
- Who is making the items?
- How they are making them?
- Where, and with what tools?
- Are these individuals subject to any inequality or poor treatment?
- Are manufacturing processes polluting the environment?
These questions won’t take too much time to answer, or to verify answers, but they need asking in the right way, at the right time. Without generalising, it is often the case that people feel awkward asking the questions and even more awkward questioning the answers. At the start of any engagement or partnership, assessing this information isn’t personal. But it absolutely will be, if it comes to light that there have been staff forced against their will to work on products that you are selling. There are of course non human rights / environmental issues that need to be understood as well, including the financial health of a company and therefore its ability to deliver on orders.
Some tips when considering doing your own due diligence:
- If a company or individual refuses to give you information, walk away. This is the most obvious red flag that exists. Some information MAY be proprietary, but really, very little is.
- If a company or individual says they are entirely ethical and sustainable, then you can safely assume they are not. Those with serious credentials in this world acknowledge how much more can be done to improve visibility / improve compliance processes.
- Google. Yes, there is a lot of information flying about on social media and the internet. Follow this link to see our recommended sources of information. You can easily check out whether a company is actually registered and its directors (we use www.opencorporates.com), you can google maps to see if somewhere exists, you can sometimes retrieve the finances of a company too to understand a bit more about how they operate (number of employees, debt and more).
- You are entitled to ask to see evidence of the manufacturing process – photographs and videos of workshops and factories. You are entitled to ask if a company has compliance policies and ethics/values that they communicate to their staff and can share with you.
- This is a one “point-in-time” exercise. The reality is that things can change after you have done this research, intentionally or unintentionally, so consider repeating the process when you can – as with new partnerships, a good time (to keep relations sweet) is if you want to renew an order from a supplier or are considering shopping again on a website or in store.
In this Guidance section, we will conduct deeper dives into how to identify and investigate instances of human rights abuses: modern slavery, trafficking, illegal subcontracting of work, sexual exploitation, child labour, poor payment and unsafe conditions.