On Monday June 2nd, our Detective Work team promised to answer ethical fashion questions asked by passersby in Exeter’s Guildhall Shopping Centre. This is the fourth of five questions they tried to answer. Each one took all week to research, but they are worth waiting for.
This question has been asked by many people who have made and played Fashion Revolution Day’s Fashion Ethics Trump Card Game. Detective Gabrielle investigated…
Wonderbra gets an A- in FRD’s ethical trump card game.
What makes them so ethical?
Founded in the early 1900’s, originally as a Canadian company responsible for producing high quality corsets and garments (Gossling, 2014), Wonderbra today is a worldwide lingerie fashion label. Their score of A- in our ethical trumps reflects progressive policies, ethical transparency, production monitoring and worker rights; graded according to their response to specific supply chain risks (Cook et al., 2013). Through deconstructing each grading, we can gauge what makes them ethical.
Originally Wonderbra’s production was focused in Canada, factory facilities handling up to 3,000 items a week. However, today the picture is different; by 2006 all Quebec factories had closed and moved offshore (Gruenwald & Demchinsky 2007). Their international out-sourced production within the realms of ethics can be traced back to their existence in the Sara Lee Corporation, Wonderbra sold under them from 1968 onwards (Anon, nd). The Sara Lee Corporation outlined strict ethical principles to which companies within them, including Wonderbra, had to conform; covering global production and specifying criteria for suppliers and subcontractors. These specific ethical principles cover both the later production stage of cut-make-trim as well as those at the level of raw material input.
Wonderbra pride themselves with enforcing specific legislation regarding child labour throughout the whole supply chain. For the cut-make-trim level of production, Wonderbra set their minimum working age at 16, for raw suppliers the minimum age only drops to 15, in line with specific countries labour laws (Anon, nd) and refusing to do business with any supplier using corporal punishment. With this legislation in place, Wonderbra have further enforced their ethical labour principles through training auditors and managers to identify trafficking, child and forced labour, training reaching 100% at the most frequently exploited cut-make-trim production stage. (Free2Work, 2014).
Not only does Wonderbra state these specific rules, but they also ensure compliance through monitoring all cut-make-trim suppliers and fabric mills with unannounced visits and auditing (Free2Work, 2014). Such a process means the most representative coverage is achieved, ensuring the proper following of aforementioned labour laws. Specific training programmes enforced by the head office ensures suppliers and business partners also receive training on social responsibility concerning the safety of all employees- a particularly poignant ethical area following Rana Plaza’s collapse. With records kept from all direct suppliers and ILO laws stating 75% of Wonderbra’s cotton is traceable to bale level (Free2Work, 2014), the company somewhat achieves ethical notions of transparency.
Their ethical motives have room for improvement; they belong to the 95% of brands which are failing to pay workers a specific living wage (Kaylor, 2013). However, Wonderbra has crossed substantial bridges regarding ethical production. Their unannounced monitoring of production facilities particularly demonstrates some ethical understanding, testing and ensuring that safety and labour rules are enforced, rather than just being written on paper.
Anon (nd) Sara Lee Corporation Supplier Selection Guidelines. University of Minnesota Human Rights Library (http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/links/saraleecode.html last accessed 5 June 2014)
Cook et al, I. (2013) Game: ethical trade trumps. whatnotfashion.wordpress.com (https://whatnotfashion.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/game-ethical-trade-trumps/ last accessed 5 June 2014)
Free2Work (2014) Wonderbra: Scope and Status of Rating. free2work.org (http://widgets.free2work.org/frontend_ratings/public_view/463 last accessed 5 June 2014)
Gossard (2013) Our Heritage. gossard.com (http://www.gossard.com/About-Gossard/Heritage last accessed 5 June 2014)
Gruenwald, H. and Demchinsky, I. (2007) After Auschwitz: One Man’s Story. Montreal: McGill Queens University Press.
Kaylor, B. (2014) Australian Baptist Report Grades Fashion Companies’ Ethics. Ethics Daily 26 August (http://ethicsdaily.com/australian-baptist-report-grades-fashion-companies-ethics-cms-21050 last accessed 5 June 2014)
Wonderbra photo used under Creative Commons license from here.