Ethical fashion: working towards workers' wellbeing

Looking after people is the most important thing we can do.

We’re committed to protecting human rights and proactively improving the wellbeing and working conditions for workers throughout our supply chain. To achieve this, we’ve evolved our approach to focus on transparency and partnerships, both working together to improve our ethical fashion initiatives. 

Worker wellbeing in 2019

Our responsibility

In many countries, the laws that protect and empower workers are not adequate or are simply not enforced. As a result, it’s critical for us to communicate the standards we expect of our suppliers and to have a system in place to make sure those standards are met.

We aim to work in partnership with our suppliers to facilitate ongoing improvements in the pursuit of ethical fashion principles, benefitting both their workers and their business performance. These are just some of the measures we have in place:

Image of a factory worker in Vietnam

Supply chain transparency

Transparency is not just one of our core values, it’s the cornerstone of responsible business conduct.

We believe that publishing supply chain information builds the trust of workers, consumers, labour advocates, and investors, and sends a strong message that we don’t fear accountability.

Kathmandu has published a list of Tier 1 suppliers and those factories making our products.

Corporate Social Response-ability Manager at Kathmandu, Gar Shaw, says this move creates greater transparency and accountability. 

"In the past, many brands saw this as a risk. But today, it's best practice. It means that, if someone finds human rights violations in our supply chain, we want people to be able to track us down and let us know about it. We are not about self-protection. We are about collaboration and doing the best for the world."

Our supplier stastics 2019

Giving workers a voice

One vital tool we use to understand worker concerns in our supply chain is Laborlink, an anonymous confidential survey tool that workers can complete with their own mobile phones. 

This tool allows workers to communicate issues such as compromised safety or workplace harassment without fear of retribution from their employers. While the traditional audit process does include interviews with workers, they rarely result in many complaints. This is sometimes driven by a cultural expectation to stay silent about their concerns in misplaced loyalty to their employer. 

Gary Shaw, Kathmandu's Corporate Social Response-ability Manager, has seen immediate results from using Laborlink. 

"We did an audit this year on one of our new suppliers that came back almost perfect, with a score of 93%. However, in the anonymous Laborlink survey, 58% of workers reported that their supervisors often or sometimes yell at them. So the workers' wellbeing is still being impacted and that is a concern."

What comes after we receive this kind of feedback? 

"We'll ask if factory managers recognise the issues involved and are equipped to address them," says Gary Shaw. "If not, we'll invite them to work with ELEVATE to change the culture of their workplaces. 

"We don't expect or anticipate perfection. What we do require is honest transparent communication so we can work on these issues together. This is how we create change."

Image of the factory floor and workers in Vietnam

Sustainable wages in our supply chains

Kathmandu has a robust factory assessment and monitoring program. This ensures that those who make our gear are being paid the legally required minimum wage. While this is a very positive step in the right direction, we know that the majority of workers in our supply chain earn less than what we would consider a fair living wage relative to their country. 

Like most of the human rights challenges in our supply chain, Kathmandu cannot facilitate the positive changes we would like to see in the world by acting alone and in isolation. Instead, we have chosen to work collaboratively with other global brands and in partnership with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) in pursuit of finding solutions for helping to shape a truly ethical fashion industry. 

Human rights is not something we reluctantly feel obligated to consider as a necessary business risk. It’s our number one material issue reflecting the very heart of our values and brand.

Xavier Simonet, CEO Kathmandu
Image of a male factory worker in Vietnam

How we measure performance

To measure our performance on human rights in the supply chain, we’re now using the ground-breaking self-assessment tool, the HIGG Index.

"The Higg Index empowers organisations at any stage of their sustainability journey to reduce their environmental impacts and strengthen the communities where they operate," says Jason Kibbey, CEO of Sustainable Apparel Coalition. 

We’ve assessed our work using the detailed questionnaire in the HIGG’s Social/Labour Management Performance Module. This scoring criterion reinforces and guides those areas that are most important for us to focus on each year.

Head to our Sustainability hub to learn more about how Kathmandu is making a positive social and environmental impact. 

If you have suggestions or feedback on improving worker’s rights, please contact our Corporate Social Responsibility team.