From sustainable manufacturing to preventing human trafficking, supply chain transparency’s time has come. To wit…
Kelsey Halling will tell you that success sometimes means going around in circles. She’s the Director of Sales at Thread International, a company that creates both jobs and fabric out of trash. Thread turns plastic bottles collected in Honduras and Haiti into fabrics such as canvas, jersey and denim for brands including Timberland and Reebok, making every single step of the process transparent.
Businesses need to ditch their old-school linear models (take > make > sell > dump in a landfill),
Kelsey says, and start facing the often-ignored truth that our planet doesn’t actually have a never-ending wealth of resources.
The goal of Thread is to keep materials in use for as long as possible while tapping into what Kelsey calls “a hugely overlooked economic opportunity.” The amount of plastic thrown out every year is worth somewhere between $80 and $120 billion (USD) according to estimates from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that helps businesses transition into a circular framework.
The practice of circular economics not only offers great possibility for our ailing planet, she says, it also holds life-changing potential for millions of exploited workers around the globe.
It all comes down to supply chain transparency.
Turn the lights on
Annalisa Enrile knows what happens when companies keep their supply chains hidden.
“Somewhere along the line, we convinced ourselves that people are for sale, that they are commodities,” says Annalisa, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, and an ardent advocate for victims of human trafficking. “We built whole economies and industries around them.”
The human slave trade is a $150-billion-a-year industry, she says. In 2016, the International Labour Organization counted more than 40 million people enslaved on the planet, a quarter of them children. Human Rights Watch reports that the garment industry — which employs millions of people worldwide and is worth $2.4 trillion (USD) — is rife with exploitation.
“We like our monsters in the dark,” Annalisa says, and it’s why companies hide behind subcontractors: to avoid facing the human rights violations they’re commissioning down the pipeline.
“Even traffickers and perpetrators say supply chain transparency is the answer,” Annalisa adds, citing a study of more than 100 men who purchase sex that found 87% of them would be deterred from doing so if they thought the public could find out.
The supply chains that make the clothes we wear are often long, opaque and difficult to trace, agrees Kelsey, “making them open to a host of human rights violations.” Thread is trying to do the exact opposite, creating jobs for those collecting material while offering a product that is transparent from source to production.
Buying your way to supply chain transparency
Start by checking your tag. Ask yourself: Who made this shirt? Where did it come from?
Test your transparency
In 2016, Human Rights Watch partnered with labour rights groups to create a pledge of transparency that guides companies towards supply chain transparency. A year later, nearly 20 companies had signed on, including industry giants like Nike, Adidas, Patagonia and H&M.
“If we put our purchasing power where we need to, just as much as we put our messaging where we need to, we can help solve this problem,” says Annalisa.
And if you think the sustainability story doesn’t sell, Kelsey says, you’re telling it wrong.
“Too often sustainability focuses too much on environmental factors and leaves out the human lives that are involved in this work,” she says. “There will not be environmental justice without social justice.”
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