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Handle with care: Finnish fashion giants should pay more heed to factory conditions

Yle’s A-studio current affairs programme conducted a survey of leading Finnish garment manufacturers. Nearly all said that their subcontracting factories in poorer nations had room for development when it came to working conditions.

Vietnamilaisen vaatetehtaan ompelijoita.
Factory workers in Vietnam. Image: Jukka Pääkkönen / SASK ry

People don’t always understand how their clothes are made or the companies that are behind their production, according to Finnwatch Director, Sonja Vartiala. She says that Finnish companies need to be more aware of working conditions throughout the entire production chain.

The survey involved twelve major Finnish garment producers, including Stockmann, Kesko, Marimekko, SOK and Nanso Group.

Most of the respondents said that they relied on the recommendations of the international Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), which monitors working conditions in so-called high risk countries such as China, Bangladesh and Turkey.

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However, Sonja Vartiala claims that BSCI recommendations only tell part of the story. She says they do not investigate the source of garment components like zippers or yarn, but only the part of the process where they’re used to create the final product.

“Finnish companies usually don’t know what happens throughout the whole value chain,” says Vartiala. “The further you get down the sub-contracting chain, the more risk there is. It’s possible that hundreds of factories go unmonitored.”

A-studio asked the companies to list their subcontracting factories. SOK submitted a list and Stockmann-owned firm Lindex’s complete list can be found online. Other companies refused to reveal their private business relationships with factories they contracted, or chose to ignore the request. This is despite company policies that flag transparency of the supply chain as important.

"Self-monitoring doesn't work"

Vartiala was even more concerned at the Finnish companies that did not heed BSCI guidelines, but claimed that they followed their own recommendations. These include Texmoda , Clinton, Turo Tailor and M.A.S.I. Company – although 90 percent of the latter’s garments are made in Finland.

“Such self-monitoring is not working. Although the BSCI has its limitations, it is much more credible than their own small business fancies,” she claims.

However, Vartiala does feel content that at least attitudes are changing. Companies are increasingly wanting to tell consumers that they’re accountable, but may remain unwilling to take responsibility for the development of conditions – especially in high risk countries.

This year poor conditions in the garment manufacture industry rose to the headlines with tragedies such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. No Finnish companies have been linked to any similar such fatalities.

However, Vartiala cautions that building safety is another important area that the BSCI does not, in fact, monitor.

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