Transparency into Factory Conditions

ASDA, Britain’s second largest supermarket chain, recently installed webcams in two apparel factories in Bangladesh to give its customers a direct, uncensored viewed into working conditions on the factory floor.

Admittedly, this effort in transparency comes after a series of media exposes reported poor conditions in factories supplying ASDA, which has over 580 factories globally, and 40 in Bangladesh. So this is a small step towards fuller supply chain transparency. But it is a fantastic step nonetheless.

Only a few years ago, most large companies said they could not, and would not, ever disclose even the names or locations of their apparel factories around the world. They argued this was confidential business information (CBI) that would risk their competitive position. Even putting aside the fact that most of these brands and retailers used the exact same suppliers, this was still a specious argument. So it is great to see firms like ASDA breaking ranks and taking steps towards greater transparency.

As reported in the Guardian:

Andy Bond, chief executive of Asda, said the move hailed “the dawn of a new age, where consumers dictate how we do business and the products we sell”, promising to lift the lid on the way Asda operates. The two webcams in Bangladesh will be followed by another in Turkey later this year, the supermarket said.

“Launching two cameras is a small step towards our commitment to customer involvement but it is a further demonstration of our commitment to the quality of our products,” said Paul Wright, head of quality and ethics for George at Asda.

These sorts of experiments hint at the potential for much greater transparency in the supply chains that produce the goods we consume. I think we are only a few years away from consumers being able to pull up a picture or video of factory or farm conditions for any product they are considering while standing in a store. And as more and more workers get access to camera-phones, this transparency will increasingly come without the permission or control of factory managers.

GoodGuide’s barcode scanning app is only the tip of this iceberg. We are excited to connect consumers to this kind of transparency as it becomes available over the coming years.

About Dara O'Rourke

Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of GoodGuide.
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