From the outside, Patagonia, the brand known for its environmental activism and sustainability, appears to be doing all the right things for its employees, for garment workers and for the environment. However, a new report from Follow The Money (FTM) said the company produces in the same factories where fast fashion brands source their clothes, potentially meaning employees are working under the same poor conditions.
According to the report, Patagonia produces some of its garments at Sri Lanka’s Regal Image factory, where garments from Primark and other fast fashion brands are also made. FTM toured the factory and spoke with various employees, including factory manager Kevin Fernando, who said he noticed no difference between working with Patagonia and working with fast fashion brands. .
The Sri Lankan factory was recently approved as a supplier to Patagonia, which claimed to “only work with factories that are like-minded and share their ‘philosophy'”. In total, the fashion brand works with 61 factories, including two in the United States, one in Portugal and the rest in 12 low-wage countries. Most products are made in Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
Patagonia exploits textile workers according to Follow The Money
To be able to manufacture products for the brand, a supplier must meet various sustainability criteria which are set out in a code of conduct, including that no child labor or forced labor should be used and that physical, sexual and verbal harassment is also not tolerated. . In addition, all national laws must be observed. Managers cannot require employees to work overtime and must ensure healthy working conditions, with work weeks no longer than 60 hours or more than six consecutive days. Patagonia has the factory inspected at least once a year by an independent inspector, according to FTM. In addition, two NGOs carry out checks. They also give Patagonia’s production process and clothing a label of sustainability.
Some of these checks have been made public, in which dozens of violations are mentioned. One problem, according to FTM, emerges from all the reports: textile workers in factories that make clothes for Patagonia work up to 17 hours a day and more than 80 hours a week. It’s far more than what Patagonia says it allows in its code of conduct and beyond what’s legally allowed.
Fernando, to whom FTM spoke, assured that its employees work a maximum of five days a week and 10 hours a day. However, a supervisor told FTM while on tour that he was working 2 p.m. Fernando shrugged and said, “It’s busy.” From conversations with a trade union, Stand Up Movement Lanka, employees even appeared to use drugs to meet production targets and maintain the shift.
Patagonia sees production at fast fashion factories as an advantage
Patagonia called production in the same factories as other brands an advantage. “We are a fairly small player in the clothing industry. That’s why we’re always looking for ways to increase our impact and raise industry standards at all levels. For this, it is crucial to continue to participate in shared production facilities,” Patagonia told FTM.
The brand wants all workers to earn a living wage. For example, the company promised that all employees in its value chain would earn a living wage within 10 years. With 1.5 years to go, Patagonia itself said 40% of its factories are already paying a living wage. In which factories this takes place, Patagonia did not specify, according to FTM.
In response to the article and in addition to two conversations held, Patagonia sent another statement to FTM: “We are working with our suppliers and labor experts to design and test strategies that will enable the factory to better pay its workers – from improving the efficiency of production lines and HR systems to the real cost This is a complex job that we try to understand with our suppliers.
“One of the ways Patagonia is trying to close the living wage gap is through bonuses associated with our program with Fair Trade USA. Patagonia has paid out millions of dollars in fair trade bounties in Sri Lanka alone, and those bounties have gone to over 75,000 employees in 10 countries around the world. The bonuses can be used however the employees choose – the employees chose to pay them, fund a daycare center and start a sanitation and health program. Once Patagonia pays the fee to have the factory fair trade certified, other brands can join and contribute to the bounties.
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and editing by: Rachel Douglass.