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How to Source an Ethical Manufacturer

How to Source an Ethical Manufacturer for Your Supply Chain: What You Need to Know
If you’re in the business of selling products, you’ll obviously need a manufacturer in your supply chain.
But you’ve heard the stories – there are countless manufacturers overseas who engage in unethical practices. This can range from unsafe work practices and child labour to slavery to human trafficking.
You’re committed to creating an ethical brand for your business – and don’t want any part of that in your supply chain.
If you’re looking to find an ethical manufacturer, this is the right article to read. Below, we’ve outlined the meaning of ethical sourcing, the ethical issues you’ll find in manufacturing, and everything you need to know about finding an ethical manufacturer to source your products.
That way, you can put your mind at ease when sourcing all your goods.

What does ‘ethically sourced’ mean?
Ethical sourcing refers to sourcing products in a responsible way, ensuring the people in your supply chain are treated with decency and the natural environment is not adversely affected.
Fundamental to ethical sourcing is that workers are paid fairly, placed in safe working conditions and that - ultimately – their human rights are respected and protected.
Integral to this is finding an ethical manufacturer (or an ethical supplier) so that your goods are sustainably produced from the very beginning.
Below, we’ll outline some of the ethical issues you may come across in manufacturing.

Ethical manufacturing: What are the issues?
The term ‘ethical manufacturing’ is broad, but we’ve identified several of the key issues you’ll come across when trying to source a manufacturer for your supply chain.
With the passing of modern slavery legislation across the Western World, it’s vital to know precisely how your products are put together – all the way down to the last stitch.

Forced labour
Forced (or compulsory) labour in supply chains does not simply mean working for no money.
It’s defined by the International Labour Organization as "all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily."
It is estimated that around 25 million people around the world are engaged in forced labour. Sixteen million of them are working in the private sector, connected to global supply chains responsible for supplying goods and services to you and me.
Even more concerning, about 4.8 million people are estimated to be involved in forced sexual exploitation.
It is critical that businesses across the world do not source manufacturers responsible for engaging in forced labour.

Environmental footprint
Consumers are becoming more and more environmentally aware. They will often place importance on the environmental footprint of the business they choose to buy from.
To minimise your business’ environmental footprint, it’s critical to engage an eco-friendly manufacturer – one that has robust policies in place to minimise its carbon footprint.
This may include a supplier who has made efforts to switch to renewable or alternative forms of power, sourcing sustainable raw materials (whether it be cotton, timber or wool) and practising sustainable waste management.

Child labour
It’s tempting to source your products quickly and efficiently, so it’s dangerous to overlook the potential for child labour in your supply chain.
The International Labor Organization reports that around 170 million children are engaging in child labour, defined by the United Nations as:
·     work for which the child is too young (or below the required minimum age
·     work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children.
The fashion industry is reported as a primary culprit for child labour – so finding an ethical manufacturer that does not engage in child labour can be a challenge.

Work Health and Safety
If workers in your supply chain are manufacturing your goods in dangerous working conditions, that’s a sure tell sign that your manufacturer isn’t very ethical at all.
According to the World Bank, there are approximately 317 million non-fatal workplace injuries every year, as well as about 321,000 workplace fatalities.
It is critical to source a manufacturer that provides safe systems of work, and educates its workers on what is best practice when it comes to safety.
Engaging an unsafe manufacturer will tarnish your brand, and possibly lead to the creation of unsafe products that are dangerous to your customers.

How do you find ethical manufacturers? Follow these 4 steps.
If you’re looking for an ethical manufacturer for your supply chain, we recommended following the below 4 steps.
While easier said than done, these steps can put you on the right path to sourcing a sustainable manufacturer that respects human rights, the environment and lives up to the values of your business – no matter how large your operations are.

1. Find suppliers
First things first – you’re going to actually need to find a number of suppliers to choose from.
There are a whole range of ways you can do this, whether it be:
·     Attending trade shows and exhibitions in your area

·     Looking on the Internet (and websites like Alibaba – although you’ll need to know the risks when doing this)

·     Word of mouth

·     Networking within your community

Also read: The Canton Fair 2023: What Importers & Exporters Need to Know

2. Assess their ethics and sustainability
The next step is the hard part – assessing how ethical and sustainable your manufacturer is.
You’ll need to look very closely into how they conduct operations in order to determine if this supplier is the right fit for you. This may involve visiting their factories, observing their standard operating procedures, looking at their safety policies and interviewing members of management.
You’ll need to determine:
·     How the supplier conducts environmental management

·     How they ensure they’re promoting good working conditions for their staff, including paying them correctly and providing them with a safe working environment

·     Whether child or forced labour is actually being practised, or if there is potential for this practice to emerge

·     Whether other customers of theirs have conducted audits on them, and what their findings were.
A thorough review of a manufacturers’ operations will be critical to ensuring they live up to the ethical and sustainable brand you’re trying to promote.

3. Make the final call
Once you’ve analysed the ethics and sustainability practices of a number of manufacturers, you’ll be in a position to make the final call.
You should have – at the every least – narrowed down your list to determine which manufacturers are the most ethical.
Of course, finding an ethical manufacturer might not be your last step.
You may have a whole range of considerations you’ll need to think about before landing your perfect supplier – their terms and conditions, MOQs, price, and other vital commercial factors.
Because of the sheer number of matters that go into picking the right manufacturer, we always recommend step #4.

4. Engage a professional sourcing company
A professional sourcing company that specialises in finding the right suppliers and manufacturers for your business will be able to do all the above for you.
They’re able to closely assess candidates from across the world, and make a tailored assessment to determine what you need to conduct your operations sustainably, ethically and properly.
As a leading sourcing company in the Asia Pacific region, our team in the Sourcing Co has sourced ethical manufacturers for companies in the USA, UK, PNG, New Zealand and Australia.  
If you’re looking to source an ethical manufacturer for your supply chain, look no further than the Sourcing Co.
All our suppliers are ethically accredited. We’ve mastered the formula and have made sure that your goods come from well-renowned, reputable and – most of all - ethical manufacturers.
Giving you piece of mind that you can keep doing business that’s good for the world. Get in touch with us today.
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