October 17, 2021

Transparency Is The New Black

I watched an amusing and disturbing play at my local repertory theater last weekend- “The Guard Will Escort You To Ruff-Ruff”. If you’re in Los Angeles, I highly recommend it and the plays it’s also shown with, before it closes this weekend. More info here. The play is set in the CSR office of a typical American Fortune 500 company. The play was about a bright-eyed temp who was stoked to work for one of her favorite brands. Until she spent a couple weeks reading third-party auditor’s reports on contractor’s factories, and failing to convince her boss to adjust protocol to ensure unprecedented transgressions would be treated with the same urgency as the traditionally unforgivable transgressions.

Having studied sustainability in business school, and worked in the fashion industry most of my life, I thought auditor’s reports were treated with much more respect than this.

Since I live close to the world headquarters of one of the companies highest-ranked for CSR, I decided to take a look at their report and see what they’re doing to improve working conditions in contract factories. The play was not about Disney, but Disney makes us all feel so good, so I felt like it might be good to peek behind the curtain and see how our favorite Disney products are made. I’ll never forget how I loved that giant Pooh bear my wonderful dad bought me when we were at Disneyland…

Here’s what Disney has to say about their suppliers. And their CSR report. Below is an excerpt of their most recent report on how their suppliers performed in key areas. But they don’t mention anything about what they’re doing to improve those working conditions. Note how health & safety in factories is basically unchanged in the three year period shown.

They do mention, in a footnote (24), that they have to switch factories so often it’s hard to measure what’s going on. Perhaps if brands exercised more stewardship of their contract factories, they wouldn’t have to keep switching factories. They’re even a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, but their reports are done by the members themselves, not third-party auditors. And the results aren’t available to the public.

24) The supply chain for Disney-branded products experiences routine fluctuations in active facilities. In 2015, approximately 27% of our total facilities were new producers of Disney-branded products, which complicates any year over year comparison.

Having worked in apparel for so long, I know it’s very common for factories to close down when asked to, and re-open in another crumbling building across town under a new name. Now, what would it take for one of the world’s most loved brands to step up their game in CSR? To take on new challenges as easily as they took over the Star Wars Franchise and kept the dream alive?