A comment following the I.CE.C open letter

The Toggler blog
Published:  15 May, 2014

Last week ILM published an open letter on this website from Sabrina Frontini, Director, I.CE.E based in Milan. I read this letter with mixed feelings, mixed because – not only was I confused but here are two separate themes in this letter with opposing content. 

The first element covers recent “CSR” (Corporate Social Responsibility) issues in China (production facilities in China are not meeting their “CSR” requirements and their staff are on strike) with the letter coming to the conclusion that the Brands are shirking their responsibility and leads to the final words “the working conditions of thousands of people who work for Chinese subcontractors seem to go un-noticed (by the Brands).” Now I am no lover of the larger Brands and consider them to be too big to deliver consistently. Items such as finance, CSR, production targets etc are managed by completely different parts of the organisations, which are the size of small countries. And like governments of small countries, Brands are quite comfortable with creating conflicting messages /objectives coming from different parts of the same organisation; this can lead to mixed messages or opposing objectives being implemented. Brands do have CSR policies and their sub-contractors either meet them (which is a positive outcome) or as appears in this case manage to avoid meeting their CSR responsibilities which is not. The argument here appears to come to the conclusion that stronger systems need to be in place to ensure that Brands/ sub-contractors meet their CSR commitments.

Which leads me to the second element of the letter – the points made against the LWG (Leather Working Group) for doing just that. The LWG has engaged the Brands and supply chain (tanners in this case) in a transparent system to meet the environmental needs of the socially responsible tannery in the global market. As the letter says, the LWG does have elements which seek to protect the Amazon basin (a positive objective) but also (as the letter does not say) ensures tanners use less resources (water and energy), are meeting their local discharge requirements and covering many aspects of good practice in tannery environmental management. Meeting LWG requirements may not be easy to attain (which may of course be the real reason for I.CE.C’s letter), but the LWG outcome is good environment performance, presented in a visible manner (www.leatherworkinggroup.com). The issue here seems to be that the I.CE.C is using a CSR breakdown in China (which has nothing to do with LWG) to take a negative view on the LWG objectives. The LWG is doing exactly what the letter askes in the first paragraph i.e it is engaging the Brands (and sub-contractors –tanners) to openly engage in procedures and activities that demonstrate that they are taking adequate steps to meet the (environmental) requirements.

Surely the letter should be saying in the first part – there is a breakdown in CSR management, then in part 2; there is an excellent model being applied by the LWG in dealing with the environmental requirements that could be used as a model for improving global CSR management.

The Toggler

thetoggler@internationalleathermaker.com

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