A charity’s reputation is everything, however, it can be a perilous concept. That’s why I was saddened, but not surprised, to read about the Spice Girls and Comic Relief’s “gender justice” t-shirts, which according to the Guardian, were manufactured at a factory in Bangladesh, where women routinely suffered appalling working conditions.
Though the situation is completely unacceptable, the truth is, it could have happened to any charity. Many charities take ethical manufacturing seriously and have adopted ethical manufacturing policies. However, at the same time, their fundraising teams are tasked with increasingly aggressive campaign fundraising targets. Which will matter more to the fundraising managers: reaching their targets or prioritising ethical policies? In an ideal world, they shouldn’t have to choose.
At the same time, supply chains are becoming increasingly opaque. Charities must remain diligent throughout the entire process. Both Comic Relief and Spice Girls checked out the ethical sourcing credentials of manufacturer Represent, however, it subsequently changed the manufacturer without their knowledge.
As a result, we’re seeing first-hand the reputational damage that can occur from unethical sourcing practices. Though Represent has accepted ‘full responsibility’ and promised to refund customers, Comic Relief still shoulders much of the burden. In today’s climate, it’s unacceptable for a charity to not know where its merchandise is made and who is making it. Compliance requires that everyone in the process play their part. The fact that t-shirts promoting gender equality were manufactured by women on poverty wages highlights a systemic failure in ethical procurement processes that should be standardised across the charity sector.
To tackle the ethical issues in manufacturing today, it will take a unified effort. Ethical sourcing and manufacturing is a continual, ever-evolving battle and supply chains are opaque by design. Limiting transparency into how products are made allows manufacturers to meet unrealistic pricing demands, while enabling charities to claim plausible deniability. Significant change requires greater transparency, clear sourcing guidelines, and stronger commitment from today’s charities and manufacturers. Making money is important, but we need to be asking: at what cost?
The mission of every charity, no matter its cause, is to make a positive difference on the lives of people around the world. That starts by ensuring humane treatment of the people doing work on behalf your charity. Ethical sourcing should be the starting point for every single charity campaign.
Charities can take a more proactive approach by getting to know their suppliers better and developing long-term relationships with those that are trustworthy. It starts by asking suppliers the right questions and understanding the policies they have in place – if any - regarding modern slavery and ethical sourcing. It continues with frequent inspections and strict auditing processes, such as the SMETA scheme, run by global organisation SEDEX, which shares information on responsible sourcing.
When it comes down to it, a charity’s reputation can determine its success or failure. The question is: is it worth putting it at risk to achieve fundraising targets?
Veena Dookoo is director of Rocket Charities, a supplier of ethical fundraising merchandise.