Supply Chain: Ethics in Crisis

Dear Cotopaxi supporters,

According to the latest global estimates by the International Labor Organization (ILO), 152 million children are in child labor and 25 million adults and children are in forced labor, including in global supply chains. That’s equivalent to one third of the US population being subjected to slavery. Human rights abuses in supply chains are some of the largest humanitarian crises of our time, and textile and apparel companies are the leading cause of this crisis.

As we lean into necessary domestic discussions around racial equality and diversity and inclusion, we should expand our consciousness around these issues to include these 150+ million individuals wrongly imprisoned in cycles of bondage. We should all consider the impact of our purchases and actions; we should also consider how we can better drive systemic equality.

Cotopaxi is committed to drawing attention to this issue and to going beyond compliance to help tackle it.

Here’s what’s not working: Fast fashion is sidestepping responsibility and prioritizing short term profits over basic universal rights. This is unacceptable. While many companies are adopting auditing regimes, do they really protect against human labor violations? Yes and no.

At Cotopaxi, we know supply chains are complex. Take the common t-shirt. When you think about its supply chain, you probably think about the person who sewed the product. But what about the 40,000 liters of water needed to grow the conventional cotton used in the fabric? What about the cotton workers? What about the carbon footprint and safety of the dyes used to treat the fabric? What about the safety of the workers disposing of those chemicals? What about all the intermediaries shipping those products? Yep. It’s complicated. By most estimates, 90% of any apparel product’s carbon footprint comes from before it’s even cut and sewed.

That means every company has a moral responsibility to consider its supply chain, which means considering every single person and community that touches a product. Responsible supply chain management is a journey and one we try to approach with humility and humanity at Cotopaxi. Here are some steps we take every day to help drive positive change across our supply chain:

  • Treating suppliers and workers as equals and stakeholders. We’ve found that capacity building through grants to Fair Trade USA, investment in workers’ programs like carpooling programs, and conversations based on equality and understanding with managers and workers build trust and transparency.
  • Vetting suppliers for their social and environmental performance through audits that are then used as the basis for more holistic approaches to workers’ rights. One audit revealed that a factory partner had not understood its duty to actively train its workers on their right to collective bargaining, but then stepped up to provide comprehensive online and in-person training around workers’ rights.
  • Partnering with third parties such as Fair Trade USA, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, B Lab, and peers to drive awareness around this issue.
  • Holding ourselves accountable by making our factory list (both Tier 1 and Tier 2), Restrict Substance List (RSL), and Code of Conduct (CoC) publicly available for scrutiny. We also report our supply chain management outcomes publicly every year through our impact report and as part of our B Corp assessment.
  • Always working to go beyond compliance and to build a better capitalism that works for everyone, including workers. Here’s what we’re still working on: adopting testing of all materials, building upon our sustainable design practices, working with workers directly to elevate their livelihoods through health and educational programming in factories.

We’re always working to do more to build a sustainable supply chain and to hold fast to our founders’ mission of using business as a force for good.


Annie Agle signature

Annie Agle, Director of Brand & Impact