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The True Cost…Of Everything

Do you know what the true cost of your supply chain is? In an age of ethics and transparency, ignorance and apathy are no longer acceptable, says Lucy Siegle.

Lucy Siegle - True Cost

When it was first released, viewers of the True Cost movie, the award-winning feature length documentary, were shocked and appalled as they learned the true cost of fast fashion.

The human rights and sustainability issues were all there for us to see.

The true cost of most of our supply chains are not fully known and this is a quest for most procurement pros. That’s why we’ve invited Lucy Siegle, broadcaster, writer, journalist, and trail blazer in sustainability and ethical living, to inspire and instruct us on how to be better.

Lucy is at the forefront of the fight for a sustainable approach to supply chains, that protects the planet and its people.

At the Big Ideas Summit 2016, Lucy Siegle will challenge CPOs and experts on how they view their supply chains. She’ll be asking what can be done differently to prioritise sustainability. She says:

I love big ideas – who doesn’t?! But I also like small ideas, incremental steps and ideas that are yet to be fully formed. So what I’m always interested in hearing and alert to is how we can get ideas of all shapes and sizes implemented. And how we can build momentum behind change.

It’s no secret that we face a number of big issues in supply chains from resource scarcity and contraction to degraded human rights (and in some cases slavery) in supply chains. What are the mechanisms for shifting the dial on these issues, and putting these big ideas into motion?

What got you involved/interested in sustainability in the first place?

I guess the idea that you can change negative outcomes. I first heard about women like Vandana Shiva in the 1970s – the original tree huggers if you like. These women protected old growth forests in Northern India, not just by placing themselves between the tree and the logger, but by strategically educating and empowering local people to take a stand.

I was also lucky as a kid that a curriculum experiment in the 1980s meant that I got to take Environmental Science as a subject from the age of 12. I was hooked! Sustainability is the science of resource use, ecology and environmental science mixed with psychology and creative marketing. That’s a heady combination to me!

You spoke recently about the ‘forgotten people’ in the fashion supply chain. Why do you think consumers have lost sight of the origins of their clothing?

Because very simply fashion has become a vehicle for turbo-charged capitalism and globalisation. The problem probably began as soon as the Spinning Jenny (invented in the UK) gave us a fast way of spinning cotton. But the real speed has picked up in the last 10-15 year as fashion’s become the ultimate free market poster industry.

Fast fashion (as we call the phenomenon of high volume, low cost, outsourced production) isn’t just a fashion option, it’s a domineering, all conquering, pervasive model. It wipes out all other production methods (goodbye mid-market, slow fashion), ensures that consumers become addicted to buying cheap and in bulk, forsaking all other previous standards (such as quality, wearability, longevity) and dictates trend, price and lifespan.

The consumer becomes overwhelmed and brainwashed by price, speed and brand. Nothing else matters, least of all the ethics of who made the piece and in what circumstances. Fashion is now made and marketed by big brands as if it’s disposable, and who bothers to invest in the backstory of disposable products?

The True Cost movie highlighted some truly shocking practices in fashion supply chains. What can we, as procurement professionals, do to change this?

Well there’s a lot that can be done. Firstly there’s the reputational lever. The True Cost as a movie exists because the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over a thousand garment workers.

The director of that movie, Andrew Morgan, was so moved to see TV footage of two small boys searching in the rubble for their garment worker mother that he investigated how this could possibly happen. He had no interest in fashion. So highlighting these supply chain truths is very important.

The risk of reputational damage can really lead to a lot of change. Increasingly we’re also seeing anti-slavery legislation (from Dodd Frank to our own UK anti-slavery bill). There’s a perception that this just means corporations will employ a load of lawyers to get around these rules and regulations. Perhaps the short sighted corporations will, but excellent supply chain professionals have the opportunity to show how these regulations should be used to effect positive change and link compliance to improvement.

I also think there’s huge scope to ally the human with the environmental. We shouldn’t just ever think green, but think holistically ethical – environmental and social justice. That’s the only way to plan for the longterm.

I’m also big into collaborations. I’ve seen some really strange collaborations – including between Greenpeace and fishermen, which I would never have seen coming. In fact they used to be sworn enemies. But these collaborations have ended up being hugely successful in ethical terms. Some of those should be with lawyers.

It’s also worth looking at legal remedies too. We’ve noticed (or rather our lawyers have noticed!) that ironically some of the speed and devil-may-care approach to production in ‘host’ low wage economies are in direct violation of WTO rules.

Have you come across any good examples of good procurement/supply chain practices in the fashion supply chain that we can learn from?

Lots of individual supply chains have great merit. So there are some on leather (an incredibly intensive, impactful commodity – and no, it’s not a harmless byproduct!) that I’ve investigated where climate scientists have worked directly with rancheros in the Amazon and then designers in Italy to create zero deforestation accessories for Gucci.

Or I’ve also investigated a progressive jeans company that’s one of few fashion companies to pay its sewers a living wage. I’ve also worked a lot on brands like Patagonia that explores aggressive transparency and some pretty counter intuitive advertising to get the message across.

And what about the surf-wear brand I came across that spent years working with a  farmer to breed a particular type of endangered sheep?! I’ve come across many examples, from the seriously certified trail-blazers to the certifiable! But what’s difficult is of course scale and outreach.

Lucy Siegle will cover these topics, and more, during her keynote address at the Big Ideas Summit on April 21st.

If you’re interested in finding out more, visit www.bigideassummit.com, join our Procurious group, and Tweet your thoughts and Big Ideas to us using #BigIdeas2016.

Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.