Three ways to ensure charities’ promotional merchandise is ethical

Howard Lake | 20 February 2019 | Blogs

Reputation is everything. Unfortunately, for today’s fundraisers, it can also be a precarious concept.
Just recently, The Guardian revealed that Spice Girls t-shirts sold to raise money for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were manufactured at a factory in Bangladesh where women earned the equivalent of 35p per hour and suffered appalling working conditions.
The fact that t-shirts promoting gender equality were made by women on poverty wages is completely unacceptable, but unfortunately, far from shocking. Charity supply chains have become increasingly complex and opaque, and it can be difficult for the even the most well-intentioned fundraiser to ensure their products are being made in ethical working environments.
For example, both the Spice Girls and Comic Relief said that they checked the ethical sourcing credentials of Represent, the online retailer commissioned for the t-shirts. However, Represent subsequently changed the manufacturer without the clients’ knowledge.
The situation goes to show that fundraising ethics is not easy. Today’s supply chains are opaque by design, and there are no black-and-white answers to solving the ethical manufacturing dilemma. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take steps to help protect against unethical practices. In fact, it is only through greater transparency, clear sourcing guidelines and stronger commitment from today’s fundraisers and manufacturers, that we will see significant change in ethical sourcing practices across the charity sector.
One thing I’ve learned during my 25 years of experience in charity promotional merchandise, is that the best defence against unethical practices is due diligence. Though it is difficult to have 100 percent transparency into the supply chain, it is from an informed point of view that you can influence how, where and by whom your products are being produced.
Here are three elements of advice for ensuring your charity doesn’t fall victim to the same fate as Comic Relief.

1. Look for factories with social audits

One of the best ways to ensure ethical manufacturing is to work with suppliers and factories that have passed strict social accountability audits, such as a Sedex Members Ethical Trading Audit (SMETA) or a Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) audit.
When it comes to ethical manufacturing, SMETA and BSCI set the gold standard. Factories that conduct these audits face strict scrutiny regarding ethical and responsible business practices, so you can feel comfortable that your merchandise is being manufactured without violating anyone’s human rights in the process.

2. Conduct during production inspections

A common misstep in ethical manufacturing is to assume that the initial ethical standards will be upheld throughout the process. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for factories to cut corners to enhance their profit.
While social audits can be a great tool in selecting an ethical supplier, independent audits can give you greater visibility throughout the entire production process by conducting During Production Inspections, or DUPROs.
The goal of a DUPRO inspection is to catch any ethical or quality-related issues early in the manufacturing process. That way, you can quickly address and resolve any issues that arise before they become a larger problem. These are especially important if you have an exceptionally large or complex order.
A DUPRO inspection typically is conducted on-site when at least 10-20 percent of production has been completed. The same checks are then completed at 40 percent of production, 80 percent of production, and pre-shipment.
Throughout the process, you’ll be able to confirm that the production is being carried out on the same premises. If the address doesn’t match the one provided on the original social audit, chances are your supplier has changed manufacturer without your knowledge. You can also provide the inspector with a list of items you would like them to double check.
Conducting extensive audits at every step of the way gives you greater control and transparency into how, where, and by whom your merchandise is made.

3. Don’t be tempted by too-good-to-be-true prices

One of the biggest red flags of unethical manufacturing is price. If the price looks too good to be true, chances are it is. In order to provide safe working conditions, liveable wages, and quality products, factories need to invest significant funds.
As a fundraising manager, it is important to raise as much money as possible, however, we need to be asking: at what cost? If you are buying products at unattainable prices, chances are, you are putting your charity’s reputation at risk.

Taking a unified effort

To tackle the challenges in ethical manufacturing today, it will take a unified effort. Charity promotional merchandise is a significant part of fundraising for today’s charities, however the industry itself is complex and high-risk. It takes a lot of work and commitment to ensure that
merchandise is produced in the most humane and ethical environments.
That is why we take ethical manufacturing so seriously at Rocket Charities. We aim to live by our values. We only work with factories that share our dedication to ethical practices and strive to educate charities about the importance of ethical manufacturing. At the same time,
we endeavour to partner with charities who prioritise social accountability.
The responsibility to source ethically, while meeting fundraising targets, can be a balancing act for today’s charities. However, there are several that do it well by asking their suppliers the right questions and frequently requesting audits, including RSPB, British Red Cross, Save the Children, Breast Cancer Now and The Wildlife Trusts.
When it comes down to it, a charity’s success depends on its reputation. To avoid putting it at risk, today’s fundraiser managers need to be informed, involved and committed – at every step of the way.
Veena Dookoo is Director of Rocket Charities, a supplier of ethical fundraising merchandise. For more information and to read more about their ethical and sustainable approach visit or follow them on Twitter @RocketCharities.
Main photo: #iwannabeaspicegirl t-shirt –

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