What fits into our carry-on backpacks is pretty much all we own these days. We have researched almost all our gear, and whatever made the cut fits our needs as location-independent, minimalist travelers and is sure to stand the test of time. Quality over quantity is not just a snappy phrase but a necessity for us.
Since (re)watching some of the documentaries on (anti)consumerism and sustainability that inspired us to embark on our minimalist journey, we have added another dimension to our research: We want our gear not only to be technically the best gear for our lifestyle but to be sourced in a way that does not harm our environment nor the people and communities involved in the process.
How to find out more about my things?
If you too want to make sure that what you buy wasn’t manufactured by poisoning rivers in India or by forcing the seamstress in Bangladesh to work in an unsafe building, start asking where your clothes came from (and I don’t mean the department store three blocks away).
Unfortunately, manufacturers are not always forthcoming with that sort of information, and there is no single global, independent body that keeps an eye on the manufacturing industry and gives us reassurance that they are doing (and we are buying) the right thing.
So, how do you know? Firstly, there are a bunch of institutions out there that have made it their mission to find out. While their methodologies cover different aspects and thus don’t always come to the same conclusion, their databases and reports are a good starting point:
- Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
- Ethical Consumer
- Fair Labor Association
- Good on You (which joined forces with Rank A Brand in October 2019)
- Know the Chain
- Shop Ethical!
- Tear Fund.
The other port of call are the manufacturers themselves. Many publish Corporate Social Responsibility Statements (and all sorts of other information) but if you actually spend some time reading them you can tell which ones are just marketing gimmick/greenwash and which ones genuinely address the sustainability and ethics of their supply chain.
How sustainable and ethically made is what we own?
We were curious to have a baseline and therefore started researching the companies that manufacture our packing list items (Female | Male). Some of our findings so far have been a mere confirmation of what we knew already, others have been eye-opening (and not in a good way) – incentive enough for us to look for alternatives once these items have reached their end of life.
|Brand||Owner||CSRHub||Ethical Consumer||Good On You||Know The Chain||Shop Ethical!||Tear Fund|
|Buff||Original BUFF®, S.A. Spain||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|Columbia||Columbia Sportswear Company™||45/100||5.5/15||3/5||31/100||F||N/R|
|Eagle Creek (ceasing operation end 2021)||VF Corporation||76/100 (VFC)||6.0/15 (VFC)||3/5||64/100 (VFC)||F (VFC)||N/R|
|ExOfficio||Newell Brands||65/100 (NB)||6.5/15 (NB)||N/R||N/R||F (NB)||N/R|
|Icebreaker||VF Corporation||76/100 (VFC)||6.0/15 (VFC)||4/5||64/100 (VFC)||F||A+|
|Marmot||Newell Brands||65/100 (NB)||6.5/15 (M/NB)||N/R||N/R||F||N/R|
|Macpac||Super Retail Group Ltd||71/100 (SRG)||N/R||2/5||N/R||B||B|
|Merrell||Wolverine World Wide||40/100 (WWW)||4.5/15 (WWW)||2/5||N/R||D (WWW)||N/R|
|Salomon||Amer Sports||96/100 (A)||6.5/15 (A)||N/R||N/R||D (A)||N/R|
- CSRHub – Benchmarks companies based on their overall environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance; from 100 = Best to 0 = Worst
- Ethical Consumer – Scores brands on 300 topics in 5 main areas (animals, environment, people, politics and product sustainability). Every company starts with a score of 14. Points are being deducted when the company lacks in an area, but it can also earn points for product sustainability or company ethos; from 15 = Best to 0 = Worst
- Good On You – Rates brands based on their impact on workers across the supply chain as well as resources use and disposal; 2/5 = Not Good Enough, 3/5 = It’s A Start, 4/5 = Good
- Know the Chain – Benchmarks companies based on the forced labour risks within their global supply chain; from 100 = Best to 0 = Worst
- Shop Ethical! – Rates companies considering their environmental and social impact, including the treatment of animals; B = Some Praise/No Criticism, D = Criticism/Some Praise, F = Criticisms
- Tear Fund – Grades manufacturers on the strength of their systems to mitigate against the risks of exploitation in their supply chain; from A+ = Best to F = Worst
- N/R – Not Rated
While still ongoing, our review of our packing list has turned up some other interesting insights:
- Only about 50% of the brands we own have been independently assessed to date – partially due to a lack of information/transparency, partially because those assessing the manufacturers have only limited resources.
- The ownership of the brands we know (and trust/ed) by BIG BRAND RETAIL is huge (and more and more small manufacturers are being acquired and brands closed down).
- There is a lot of greenwashing out there. A manufacturer donating money to a charitable organization doesn’t make them sustainable or ethical, sorry. At least not if that’s all they’re talking about in their shiny marketing brochures.
What can you/we all do?
We (consumers) have a choice. And we have a voice. We can vote: with our wallets, with our feet. And we have a right to know where the stuff we buy comes from. So ask questions…
Where we haven’t found an independent assessment and/or limited information on the manufacturer’s website, we contacted the companies directly. As we receive responses we pass them on to the institutions that assess them. It only takes a few minutes, and we can all help to make the manufacturing industry more transparent.
As new independent reviews become available (and as we replace items with more sustainably and ethically made ones) we’ll update our table. So, come and check in from time to time.
Feature photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash