Adidas caught napping on T-shirt slogans, Lego’s more sustainable bricks and brands begin to pay-up to Rana Plaza victim fund

Adidas drops naughty T-shirts

The world’s second largest sporting goods manufacturer, Adidas, is withdrawing a range of T-shirts after slogans on the front of the garments attracted complaints.

Brazil’s tourism ministry objected to the sexual innuendos depicted on the clothing. One T-shirt read “Lookin’ to Score” with a woman in a bikini in front of the word “Brazil”.

The T-shirts were a limited edition sold only in the US and made to promote Brazil-themed shirts ahead of the football world cup being hosted by the South American country this summer.

Following the complaint from the Brazilian tourism board, the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, tweeted: “Brazil is happy to receive tourists for the World Cup, but it is also ready to combat sex tourism.”

Fearing reputation damage, within hours of the complaint the giant sportswear maker announced that it was taking the controversial product off its shelves. 

Lego builds for the future

Danish toy giant Lego is seeking alternatives to acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, the plastic resin it has been using in its signature bricks for more than 50 years.

The search for a new, sustainable brick material must not only blend with the already manufactured Lego bricks, but must equally stand the test of time, allowing the perpetuation of tradition with bricks being passed down from generation to generation.

“The Lego Group has a long-term ambition to use only sustainable materials and to investigate the use of fossil fuels in relation to our products,” Robbert Nickolaj Stecher, senior vice-president of corporate affairs at Lego, tells Ethical Corporation. “Maintaining the unique properties of our products, [such as] strength, durability and colour fastness makes the Lego building system possible,” he says. “Maintaining these properties in the Lego bricks after a shift to an alternative material makes the search a real challenge.”

The internal 2030 deadline for Lego to succeed in its quest for sustainable alternatives is still a long way off. However, the company says ongoing tests for a new brick material have already yielded promising results.

Lego’s environmental policy clearly states the company’s responsibility to address impacts linked to materials used. However, while the company is seeking a greener replacement to meet its sustainability targets, is it also looking for one that makes economic sense? When asked about potential financial savings from switching to sustainable alternatives, Stecher says: “In general we do not speculate on the potential financial consequences of a shift to an alternative material.” 

Rana Plaza: clothing brands pay up

Five global clothing brands and retailers recently became the first contributors to a fund – the Donors Trust Fund – aiming to raise $40m for victims of the Rana Plaza factory disaster.

It was a year ago, in April 2013, that the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,100 workers and leaving hundreds of families in emotional and financial distress.

The fund, an initiative involving various stakeholders, was created as a compensation fund to aid the victims’ families. It aims to raise $40m to compensate for loss of income and pay medical expenses to roughly 4,000 people, including survivors of the factory collapse, those who were injured and the families of the deceased.

Phil Robertson, deputy-director for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, tells Ethical Corporation: “Setting up the fund has been quite an achievement, because it has involved so many different organisations including retailers, the Bangladeshi government and trade unions. The idea to establish a coordinated and systematic approach to distributing compensation to the victims of the disaster is an innovative one, and it has simply taken time to work out how this should be done and get people on board.”

However, contributions have been slow. “To date most retailers have not contributed. The game that many of them are playing is to claim that their products were made in these factories without their knowledge,” says Robertson. “But, it’s their supply chains [and so] it’s their responsibility to monitor. This kind of behaviour can be best described as ‘hit and run’ capitalism, and it brings disrepute to the entire international garment industry.”

According to Dan Rees, a representative of the International Labour Organisation, which is managing the fund, several brands have been reluctant to participate in compensation funds for Rana Plaza victims because they fear donations could be interpreted as admission of guilt and could lead to litigation. The Donors Trust Fund, however, has been designed in a way that donations are voluntary, can be made anonymously, and do not imply legal responsibility for the accident.

To date, the five companies to have contributed to the fund are Spanish department store El Corte Inglés, Inditex (which owns the brand Zara), Loblaw, Mango and Mascot.

“Global brands should recognise that when something goes wrong, they must engage in a comprehensive way to set the situation right, compensate victims, ensure that factory disasters or rights abuses are not repeated, and be transparent about how they are doing this,” Robertson adds. 

HP’s lower impact packaging  

Companies are increasingly realising that there is big money to be made in sustainable packaging. The latest is tech giant HP, which has teamed up with global packaging company YFY Jupiter to create packaging material from straw waste.

The new packaging initiative, part of HP’s supply chain social and environmental responsibility programme, will not only make HP packaging more environmentally friendly, but will also offer improved protection for its products and reduce costs.

According to Linda Chau, director of packaging and media at HP, the process to create the new packaging uses up to 40% less energy and 90% less water, emits 25% less CO2 than traditional methods and helps reduce the company’s supply chain environmental footprint. And since the packaging is lighter than wood-based moulded pulp, shipping costs will also be reduced.

“One of the more effective ways that companies can save money and become more sustainable is through the light-weighting of the packaging,” says Adam Page, business manager at Smithers Pira, a firm dealing with packaging and paper industry supply chains. “This is the process where the packaging is redesigned to use different or fewer raw materials to achieve the same end-result.”

Driven by cost reduction, material and technological advances, legislation and increasingly by consumer demand, sustainability is becoming one of the most important aspects of packaging, and a lucrative one too.

“Sustainable packaging remains a hot topic with brand owners. Globally, the sustainable packaging market was worth $190bn in 2013, and is forecast to grow to $244bn by 2018,” says Page.

HP will not be the only stakeholder reaping the benefits from its latest packaging solution. The straw waste is being sourced from Chinese farmers. These farmers who would normally burn the waste in order to make way for the next harvest now see it as a cash crop. 

Lush cuts mica to cut child labour

As it is unable to guarantee that the mica used in its products is free from child labour, UK cosmetics brand Lush has committed to removing the mineral from its products.

Mica, the most common mineral found in makeup, has long been associated with child labour. It is mica that gives many makeup products such as lipstick, nail polish and eye-shadow their shimmer.

Mark Constantine, co-founder of Lush, says the cosmetics company would usually request checks on its suppliers to ensure local practice is aligned with the company’s sourcing policy. However, due to the dangers associated with on-site visits in the Indian state of Jharkhand, which has the largest mica deposits in the world, Lush has been unable to independently guarantee that child labour is not used on the sites that supply the mineral to the cosmetics company.

Reid Maki, director of child labour advocacy at the Child Labour Coalition, tells Ethical Corporation that the remoteness of Jharkhand and its jungle landscape present difficulties for labour monitors concerned about the possibility of child labour.

It is for this reason most auditing and monitoring programmes tend to be inadequate when it comes to discovering hidden child labour. “Many companies rely on annual visits and employers typically know that monitors are coming. It is very easy for employers to hide child labour when they want to,” says Maki. “Furthermore, remediation is extremely difficult for many of the products, especially when the products are ores and minerals that are commingled further up the supply chain.”

Maki adds: “With more than 170 million children in child labour, of which more than a million are trapped in mining, it is clear the corporate world is not doing enough.”

A second Lush co-founder, Rowena Bird, says she became aware of this issue some years ago, which is why the company requires its suppliers to issue a certificate declaring that its mica production is free of forced labour of all kinds. “Of course, such declarations are based on trust, but now that this issue has been raised again, we will discontinue the use of mica in our products,” Bird says.


Adidas  BrandWatch  HP  Lego  Lush  Rana Plaza 

The Responsible Business Summit 2014

May 2014, London, UK

Make sustainable innovation add to your bottom line. 15+ CEOs and C-Suite from leading multinationals plus heads of CSR will discuss the future of sustainability

comments powered by Disqus