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Is supporting ethical business just a tick-box exercise??

A tick box exercise graphic
Since creating Etiko in 2005, I’ve seen many ethical businesses come and go. Each one entered the eco-ethical fashion world with the very best intentions: to clean up a dirty industry, reduce waste, and provide better human rights to those within its supply chains. But so many of the businesses have closed their doors due to a lack of support. Will Etiko be another one of them?

In the last few months alone, I’ve spent hundreds of hours trying to secure work for the wholesale side of Etiko’s business. This area of our business provides ethical merchandise – think custom print and embroidery jobs on Fairtrade Etiko gear.

While it’s fair to say that a lot of work goes into running a business, and many of those hours aren’t billable, I’ve realised that corporations ask for quotes from ethical brands (like Etiko) as a tick-box exercise. Let me explain.

On many (many!) occasions, I’ve been asked to provide quotes and send samples to some pretty big businesses that claim to be looking for ethical procurement options. And every time, the feedback is the same: we love the quality, the price is competitive, but we’re going to stick with our usual supplier.

So, why bother asking us for a quote?

I think it’s purely about numbers and keeping up (ethical) appearances.

Those of you who have worked in procurement know that most companies usually require three quotes for any job. Every few years, they’re supposed to retest the supplier waters to ensure they’re still getting a good deal with their usual suppliers. With the more recent invention of ethical procurement policies, it may also be a business requirement to ask a social enterprise (like Etiko) to quote for a job.

Yet, the contracts simply aren’t going to ethical brands.

I’ve spoken to multiple eco-ethical business owners who experience the same disappointing pattern and agree with my hypothesis: these businesses have no intention of using us as a supplier. We’re simply part of an internal green-washing exercise for procurement teams. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s a tick-box exercise.

So, what can we do as a collective to help ethical businesses survive?

It comes down to continued support and advocacy work by the masses. Of course, that means shopping for your values – whether it be for fashion, food or something else entirely. But it also means being brave enough to stand up and advocate for what you believe in.

Whether you’re a student at high school, TAFE, a private college or university – ask your student union or procurement team to invest in ethical uniforms and merchandise.

If you work for a company that has uniforms and procures merchandise, be an inside agitator to ensure ethical procurement sourcing actually occurs.

Together, we’ve created change in the eco-ethical fashion industry in Australia. And I know that together, we’ll continue to create a revolution.

1 comment

Great work Nick. I love reading these blog posts because you have such rich experience with running an ethical business. Thank you for the work you do.

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