President of Arc’teryx Urges Apparel Industry: Don’t Save Sinking Supply Chain by Pushing Garment Workers Overboard

By Jon Hoerauf, President and General Manager, Arc’teryx

You probably got the memo by now: 2020 is a reckoning.

We are being called to account. As we each tend to our own emergencies and disrupted lives, larger systemic failures are being disclosed under the enduring pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic, in every sphere. In the global apparel sector, we’ve been confronted with the extent of our supply chain’s vulnerability.

In October of this year, the International Labour Organization (ILO), a branch of the United Nations, reported on the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 on “the clothing factory of the world” – the Asia and Pacific region countries that account for 60% of the world’s total apparel exports and employ 65 million garment workers. The global garment trade virtually collapsed in the first half of 2020, with mandatory closures of factories, shortages of raw materials, cancelled orders, and buyers refusing to pay for materials or finished goods. Most workers lost a month of work; two in five workers lost jobs entirely.

Jon Hoerauf
Jon Hoerauf

Mandatory closures continue in some areas – this threat looms everywhere. Among those currently working, earnings have been reduced, wage delays are common, and those remaining positions are vulnerable to declining demand from consumers who are now facing stringent lockdowns. No country has been immune to the shocks, and the ripple effects for garment workers are dire – and far from over.

With second waves emerging in most countries, we all continue to face deep uncertainty and instability.

While this causes many of us sleepless nights, consider the situation for the women who make up 75% of the world’s garment industry workforce. In one of the most affected regions, Bangladesh, they face a whole different level of vulnerability – not being able to meet basic survival needs like affording enough to eat.

Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Preserving the Bottom Line is not Without Consequence

Here’s what I, and every other corporate leader has to reckon with, like it or not: we’re kidding ourselves if we think preserving the bottom line is without consequence. Our ultimate interdependence – which the continuing spread of COVID-19 keeps reiterating – boils down to this: we are vulnerable to each other’s vulnerabilities. To strengthen ourselves, we need to strengthen each other.

There is no downplaying, outsourcing, or off-shoring of risk that won’t circle back on us.

The global apparel ecosystem needs to do better by its workers.

The simple fact of the matter is, we depend on them. They should be able to depend on us.

The right to health, security, and fair wages is universal. At least, it should be. Supply chains need to reflect this – and evolve to become more human-centred. Then, we’ll all be more resilient.

Uncomfortable choices and awkward conversations lie ahead. I don’t have the answers. We’re definitely not the white knights, but we’re committed to leaning in to this opportunity to do better. I hope, by pulling back the curtain on our operations and choices, it might kindle conversation and fuel widespread change.

At Arc’teryx we craft 5% of our product in Canada at our own manufacturing facility, ARC’One. In addition, we have partnered with manufacturing facilities in 10 countries, involving close to 7,000 skilled people. Our technically complex products require us to purposefully source talent around the world. We invest years developing the relationships and systems needed to bring our exacting designs to life. (It can require 67 different operators to perform the 190 steps that craft a single Alpha SV jacket.)

The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges to Arc’teryx and our supply chain – as it has across the entire apparel sector. It also revealed, in no uncertain terms, massive global imbalances and reiterated how few, if any, social protections exist for the world’s garment makers.

This is the course we have to chart: How do we protect our business and do right by the skilled craftspeople who make our business possible?

We’ve had to re-evaluate the way we do business to respond to the pandemic and ensuing shocks. I believe we need to re-evaluate the way we do business going forward, to make sure we’re doing better by garment workers who make our products.

As a start we’ve chosen to:

There’s nothing heroic about these actions – they’re belated, small, and ultimately an inadequate response to the vast inequity that pre-existed COVID-19 and is now accelerating into a humanitarian crisis. It’s on us all to understand the human costs of the global apparel supply chain – to not avert our gaze, to not walk away. Fair Trade should be the new minimum. What could we build from there?

Massive global systems aren’t easily remade. Systemic change doesn’t come with a how-to manual, and requires the best efforts of many actors – consumers, brands, regulators, policy-makers – pushing towards a shared vision.

This is the new math of doing business – one small action can ripple outwards. I believe we need to start with the understanding that disposable fashion results in disposable garment workers. The race to the bottom to make things as cheaply and quickly as possible, has officially bottomed out. It’s time to turn the trajectory around. Instead of making more, let’s make better.

As apparel consumers, you have more power than you realize. I can tell you that brands care about what you care about. When you ask what’s behind the price tag – how is this so cheap? why is it so expensive? – when you demonstrate your commitment to paying more, investing in better quality, and demanding transparency into supply chains, you are holding brands to account. You signal that we can evolve beyond Business As Usual. You signal that we can, and must, afford to care.

To our fellow brands and our worldwide community, I challenge you – as I hope you will challenge me and each other – to use our privilege to create positive change, to commit to doing better by our garment workers.

This wrecking ball of a year keeps leading me back to this new bottom line: we will get the future we deserve. We simply must do better, together.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for your editorial. As an Arc’teryx consumer I’m happy to support a brand that is reflecting on these issues. I would ask that you also consider developing an education fund to pay for garment workers’ children’s education (tuition, uniforms, supplies).

  2. So you use cheap, abused, and exploited labour in third world countries to build your products….all while charging a ridiculous premium for your goods…and NOW you try and portray yourself as some type champion protecting international workers using a worldwide pandemic as a scapegoat? Shame.

  3. It’s great that you think about the people that are making your clothing, but you should think about the people that are buying them as well!! I have spent my life in the mountains…snowshoeing, skiing, rock climbing, canoeing, and working as a Guide, Wildland Firefighter, and in Timber Management. I require the best equipment!! (Arcteryx won’t sell it to me, so I have had to go to other companies to get it!!) I lost my home and everything in it to fire!! Arcteryx refuses to sell me the equipment I need to keep me safe during the worst conditions, because I cannot prove I have done these things!! I have shown photographs and business cards, but lost my Red Card, Tax Returns, Etc. in the fire and it takes time and money to replace!! Having been in the retail business myself, I don’t understand your hardness when it comes to selling clothing that can keep people safe!! Thank you!!

    Sincerely,
    Merilee Cross

  4. Also an Arc’teryx consumer. Thank you for your commitment to addressing this reality and your challenge to other brands and the consumer. If we honestly evaluate many problems in the world the root cause can be identified as selfishness. If we recognize/address the needs of others we can still benefit and be “successful”. If we attempt to succeed and get rich, or even live in our western culture of excess, while being fully aware of the suffering or inequities of others what does that say about us? To me it says we’re only concerned with our own personal gain and no one else. That attitude seems to produce short-term satisfaction for the individual and far reaching negative impacts that ultimately the selfish individual(s) must eventually face. You point out that this pandemic is demonstrating where we have neglected to address previous selfishness or insufficient concern for others. Thanks for taking steps to establish the minimum standards so the industry and consumers can improve from there.

  5. You say that the race to the bottom, to make things as cheaply and as quickly as possible has bottomed out. Does this mean you will return production to Canada, where it ince was? 5% of production happens in Canada isnt a big number therw is another high end outdoor clothing manufacturer in Vancouver that still makes their product line in house. Perhaps you should use them as a role model.

  6. It would be great to see those words becoming a reality for Arc’teryx employees as well. Since the beginning of the pandemic lots of people lost their jobs and the ones who stayed just have to suck it, do all the work and are constantly reminded to be grateful they still have jobs. If the plan is to not push people overboard, let’s start with our own backyard.

  7. Hi Jon, do you happen to have the number for the guy running Patagonia? Seems like he may have a few tips to share to help you catch up.

  8. Kudos to Jon Hoerauf and Arc’teryx for taking the risk to speak boldly on an issue that could simply have been avoided. Consumers with the means to pay have a role to play in demanding sustainable products and many Arc’teryx customers like myself wear and use your products proudly as we value your commitments and quality.

    It’s refreshing to hear brands like Arc’teryx advocate for workers and working conditions in developing nations as well as commit to reaching 80% fair trade by 2025.

    The first steps to change are recognition of the issues and understanding what your firm has to do in working toward a shared vision where the health of the industry and your own firm is measured in human and sustainable ways. As someone who has been involved in major systemic and organizational change including streamlining the business to be sustainable in good and challenging times, it’s critical to make sure your own internal pay schemes aren’t low for those in your local factories first. You can tolerate criticisms of foreign suppliers and working conditions abroad but comments like those from “Insider” – if correct – suggest fixing local issues at home. What has worked in many organizations is enriching lower level work and pay scales if they are a problem and develop people internally. If firms aren’t paying living wages then they’re sacrificing the longer term.

    The lessons from the pandemic must be recognized by all firms and citizens alike:
    > supply chains will be more complex and multi-sourced as few nations have the resources to do it all at home.
    > firms can assist developing nations with fair wages and ensuring fair trade products.
    > firms can lead and still be profitable.

  9. I was an employee in Arcteryx, after start working just for a month me and many other employees got let go at beginning of pandemic ..

    I think it’s also important to speak of that .. many companies are proud now to support employees during pandemic but Arcteryx you really hurt us

  10. The Arcteryx brand hides behind the actual company who owns them, VF Corporation. VF Corporation owns many brands and cares about profit only. There are a actually only 3-4 corporations who own every well known outdoor brand. These huge conglomerates will say/do anything to keep people confused and loyal.

    By from a local Canadian or European brand (private) who actually tries.

  11. Gary, you are confused about the ownership of ArcTeryx as it used to be part of Amer Sports and is now aligned with a Chinese group.

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