From the outside, Patagonia, the brand known for its environmental activism and sustainability, seems to be doing everything right for its employees, for garment workers and for the environment. However, a new report by Follow The Money (FTM) has stated that the company was found to be producing in the same factories where fast fashion brands source their clothes, potentially meaning employees are working under the same bad conditions.
According to the report, Patagonia produces some of its clothing in the Sri Lankan factory Regal Image, where the clothing of Primark and other fast fashion brands are also made. FTM visited the factory and spoke with various employees, including the manager of the factory, Kevin Fernando, who stated that he did not notice any difference between working with Patagonia and working with fast fashion brands.
The Sri Lanka 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, two of which are in the US, 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 eligible to make products for the brand, a supplier must meet various sustainability criteria that are stated in a code of conduct, including that no child labour or forced labour was to be used and that physical, sexual and verbal harassment was also not tolerated. In addition, all national laws must be observed. Managers may not require employees to work overtime and must ensure healthy working conditions, with working weeks to not exceed 60 hours or more than six days in a row. 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 provide Patagonia's production process and clothing with a sustainability label.
Some of those checks have been made public, in which dozens of violations are mentioned. One problem, according to FTM, appears in all reports: textile workers in factories that make clothes for Patagonia work up to 17 hours a day and more than 80 hours a week. That is much more than Patagonia says it allows in its code of conduct and over what is legally allowed.
Fernando, whom FTM spoke to, assured that his employees work a maximum of five days a week and 10 hours a day. However, a line manager told FTM during a tour that he works a 14-hour shift. 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 to keep up the shift.
Patagonia calls production in fast fashion factories 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 across the board. For this, it is crucial to continue to participate in shared production facilities,” Patagonia told FTM.
The brand wants all workers to earn a decent 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 stated that 40 percent of its factories are already paying a living wage. In which factories that happens, Patagonia did not say, according to FTM.
In response to the article and in addition to two conversations held, Patagonia sent a further statement to FTM: “We are working with our suppliers and labour experts to devise and test strategies that will allow the plant to pay its workers more – from improving the efficiency of production lines and HR systems to real cost. This is complex work that we are trying to figure out together with our suppliers.
“One way Patagonia is trying to address the living wage gap is through the bounties associated with our programme with Fair Trade USA. Patagonia has paid millions of dollars in Fair Trade premiums in Sri Lanka alone, and those premiums have gone to more than 75,000 employees in 10 countries worldwide. The premiums can be used however the employees want – employees have chosen to pay them out, fund a daycare centre and start a sanitation and health programme. Once Patagonia pays the fee to have the factory certified by Fair Trade, other brands can join and contribute to the premiums.”
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.