Are retailers transparent enough about sustainability?

By Daniel Weston, Chief Operating Officer (Europe), Adjuno.

Following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 many retailers have been forced to get even stricter about the conditions and labour within the factories that manufacture their products. With this in mind, it has been interesting to learn about H&M's new brand, Arket, and its open visibility when it comes to where the garments are being made.

But some have brought this new initiative under scrutiny, saying that the retailer is still not doing enough to empower consumers with the information they need to make a decision on whether or not the product is right for them, ethically. But is this down to strategic visibility on the part of the retailer, or do they really not have access to the correct information?

Retailers who can pride themselves on responsible sourcing, and then follow through on that claim, will be the ones that hold a strong market position, and quite rightly. But this is all down to visibility and if retailers are going to go down the route of H&M or even take it one step further, they need transparency across the entire infrastructure. And once they have this visibility there is no reason why retailers couldn't go as far as factory profiles on the maps themselves. They could show consumers videos, key facts, audit records and up to date information about the standards, employee numbers and conditions of the factories that are making the garments. All of this information will not only reassure consumers that the products they are buying are sustainably sourced, but that they are also being made in a safe and fair environment. As well as being made to a quality they desire, it will highlight the importance of operating ethically to the wider retail environment.

It is clear that some consumers want this granular detail when making a purchase, and the expectations show no signs of slowing when it comes to demanding this visibility. A piece of 2017 international research by Unilever revealed that more than one in five of the 20,000 surveyed said they would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. This supports the trend that has been emerging for the last five years, with a clear consumer desire to connect with brands that they believe are ethical and sustainable. But in order to promote this as a USP, businesses need to keep a close watch on their supply chains, as well as their internal practices and find the best way to share this information with the consumers.

H&M may not have got it completely right when it comes to ethical transparency yet, but they sure are ahead of the game when compared to many rival retailers. Now is the time for all retailers to get their house in order when it comes to supplier visibility, factory audits and ethical trading, because consumers are using this as a key area when it comes to the decision making process and those who can't prove themselves will be the ones that risk falling behind.

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