You probably got the memo by now: 2020 is a reckoning. We are all being called to account.
Systemic failures have been disclosed under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supply chain vulnerability. Chronic inequity. Things that keep rocking our comfort zones and demanding a response for which there is no playbook.
In the apparel industry, the actions of many brands to cancel existing orders or abandon raw materials left millions of garment workers around the world in crisis. The global garment trade virtually collapsed in the first half of 2020.
With second waves emerging in most countries, we all continue to face deep uncertainty and instability. While this causes many of us sleepless nights, consider the situation for the women who make up 75% of the world’s garment industry workforce. In one of the most affected regions, Bangladesh, they face a whole different level of vulnerability – not being able to meet basic survival needs like affording enough to eat. No country has been immune to the shocks, and the ripple effects for garment workers are dire – and far from over. (Reference: ILO Sectoral Brief: The supply chain ripple effect: How COVID-19 is affecting garment workers and factories in Asia and the Pacific.)
The global apparel industry must do better by its workers.
At Arc’teryx, when we pressed pause on “business as usual” in mid-March in response to the global pandemic, we didn’t know how fast and far-ranging the shockwaves would be, or what revelations would shake down.
We interpreted the disruption as an urgent call to ask: who and what do we stand for?
We are a community of outdoor-lovers — interconnected people in a deeply connected world. That interdependence – which the continuing spread of COVID-19 keeps reiterating – boils down to this: We are vulnerable to each other’s vulnerabilities.
There is no downplaying, outsourcing, or off-shoring of risk, that won’t circle back on us. To strengthen ourselves, we need to strengthen each other.
The right to health, security and fair wages is universal. At least, it should be.
This is the heart of our reckoning.
We craft 5% of our product in Canada at our own manufacturing facility, ARC’One. In addition, we have partnered with manufacturing facilities in 10 countries, where close to 7,000 skilled people work specifically on our products (Arc’teryx Supply Chain Partners).
Our technically complex products require us to purposefully source talent around the world. We’re proud to call out their contribution to each product (Gamma MX Hoody), and invest years developing the relationships and systems needed to bring our exacting designs to life. (It can require 67 different operators to perform the 190 steps that craft a single Alpha SV jacket.)
This pandemic has revealed, in no uncertain terms, massive global imbalances and reiterated how few, if any, social protections exist for the world’s garment makers.
Yet, the simple fact of the matter is, we depend on them.
They should be able to depend on us.
We will never be a fast-fashion brand.
We will never be a fast-fashion brand. Because our products require us to develop values-aligned, multi-year relationships with our manufacturing partners, we have a greater opportunity to protect the welfare of the garment workers associated with our partners.
The answer to who and what we stand for demands that we lean into this. If we pass the losses down the line, we force some of the world’s most vulnerable people, whose skill we value and depend upon, to absorb the greatest impacts.
And yet, if there isn’t consumer demand, we can’t make product just to keep people working.
Responding to COVID-19 has meant navigating these tensions.
As a result, Arc’teryx committed to responsible sourcing practices (COVID-19 related actions) – we paid full price for goods in transit or in production, took responsibility for excess raw materials, and have been working closely with our manufacturing partners to take their circumstances into account.
In spite of this, we still had significant impact on our suppliers.
We need to act together.
The outdoor industry is a small part of the global apparel industry, and while our choices directly impact only 7,000 workers out of the industry’s millions, our actions have consequences – both obvious and unintended ones. We need to own these. Our relative smallness doesn’t allow us to shrug that off. Because all our actions add up.
We want to ignite a conversation and invite as many actors as possible to take part. We can only make real change if we work together.
We’re not jumping up like knights on white horses. There’s nothing heroic about the actions we’re undertaking. They’re belated, small, and ultimately inadequate in response to a humanitarian crisis that pre-existed COVID-19 and is now accelerating.
Not being able to transform the system single-handedly, though, doesn’t give us a hall pass to do nothing, to keep playing along at the Business as Usual game. We have seen the ripple effects of the garment industry’s wide-ranging responses to pandemic shock: Every dollar a brand saves can cost someone a livelihood. We need to re-evaluate the way we do business, to make sure we’re doing better by the workers.
As hard as it is to be confronted with our own vulnerabilities, we choose to reckon with it by building our interdependence, not pretending it doesn’t exist.
Let’s take the first step.
How do we protect our business AND do right by the skilled craftspeople who make our business possible?
As a small contribution to redress the ongoing emergency in one of the hardest hit regions, we donated $50,000USD to the AWAJ Foundation in Bangladesh, which contributes direct support to the millions of garment workers in the direst situations.
Through Amer Sports, alongside a host of other brands, we signed the International Labour Organization (ILO) Call to Action to reduce the deeply-rooted systemic inequities in our industry.
We have also committed to making the move to Fair Trade Certification for our products. Fair Trade Certification brings extra benefits directly to the garment workers who receive additional funds to support themselves, their families and their communities.
By 2025, 80% of Arc’teryx products will be Fair Trade CertifiedTM
The journey is beginning with three manufacturing facilities in Vietnam, meaning that, by the end of 2021, more than 60 models, or near to 20% of our total collection, will be Fair Trade Certified.
The independently-overseen Fair Trade process empowers workers by providing additional funds that workers receive directly to improve their livelihoods.
Some have called this time, the Covid-19 pandemic, a chance to press pause. Some have suggested it is an initiation.
We see it as an invitation, to keep showing up, personally, as problem solvers. And to dig deep and examine the ways we can play a part in creating systemic change.
We make the path by walking it. One step at a time. Committing to do better.
We share these commitments publicly so we can hold ourselves accountable. Let’s level-up our expectations and use our privilege to create positive change. Supply chains need to be radically remade to make room for living wages, social benefits and safety for garment workers. Uncomfortable choices and awkward conversations lie ahead. We’re committed to being part of them.