Common Ground: Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative and the FLA

This is a guest post from FLA Participating Company, Patagonia.  It was written by Vincent Stanley, co-author with Yvon Chouinard of The Responsible Company, to be published August 2012.

Bill McKibben made an interesting point a few years back when he compared the yields of factory farming and organic or low-input farming. Factory farming (with subsidies) yields more dollars per acre but an organic field yields more food.

Factory farming requires industrial simplicity and heavy engineering: a few hundred acres of straight-rowed crops of the same variety, requiring vehicles as expensive as Ferraris and copious amounts of oil. A farmer of ten acres really has to know and walk the land, to rely on intimate knowledge of the land to tease out more of its fecundity and value. He or she has to know where one plant thrives in another’s shade, where to intercrop plants with roots of different lengths, note whether the earthworms are thriving. One type of farming exhausts the land, the other takes advantage of – takes its part in – the natural world.

The Common Threads Initiative asks consumers to recycle Patagonia products

We would argue that the second type of farming, low-input, small-scale, more than the factory field, represents good, sound business for now and the future. This is counterintuitive for those of us who grew up to do business in the industrial age, with its emphasis on streamlining and scalability. But the time has come for business people to understand ourselves as deeply a part of nature and to walk our fields – to change our practices so that they become less exhaustive and more intensive and productively alive, to enable our grandchildren to inherit a world we would care to live in.

To walk our fields, we also have to come to know the ground of our suppliers and customers – and we have to work in partnership with everyone who makes up a part of our business community.

Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative grew out of a simple recycling program: our aim over a five-year period was to make all Patagonia products recyclable at the end of their life, in the spirit of Bill McDonough’s cradle-to-cradle idea: make every used-up product into a new one, preferably of equal value. About halfway in, we began to realize we were working backwards. We shouldn’t have to recycle what should never have been made. Read the rest of this entry »


FLA, U.S. Advocates Call for Protection of Children in Uzbekistan

On Wednesday, the FLA joined other labor and human rights groups, American trade unions, investors, brands and retailers in appealing to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the eve of her trip to Central Asia.  With as many as 1.5 million children being removed from school and forced to work in the cotton harvest, the group called on Secretary Clinton to raise with Uzbek President Islam Karimov the need to permit the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to enter Uzbekistan to inspect conditions in the cotton fields. Read the full article from the Cotton Campaign, and see the full text of our letter to Secretary Clinton, below. Read the rest of this entry »

Migration, Modern-day Slavery and the CA Transparency in Supply Chains Act

Across the globe, millions of men and women migrate in order to find jobs. Many of them provide for their families by working in factories to manufacture clothing and footwear for some of the largest international brands. While some of these workers are successful in finding suitable employment, many others face difficulties ranging from homesickness to bad working conditions, and may even be forced into trafficking – otherwise known as modern-day slavery.


Notre Dame students attend the FLA forum to learn more about labor conditions in apparel supply chains

The FLA hosted a forum for affiliates, students and faculty at the University of Notre Dame on October 3, to discuss migration and modern-day slavery in supply chains. The event included a panel on the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, and Mufaddal Ezzy, Policy Advisor for the California State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, joined Marsha Dickson (Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Fashion & Apparel Studies, University of Delaware, and President of Educators for Socially Responsible Apparel Business), Marcela Manubens (Senior Vice-President, Global Human Rights and Social Responsibility, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation), and Lejo Sibbel (FLA) to discuss the implications of the Act on workers, businesses and the state of California. Read the rest of this entry »

Department of Labor Grants Funds to Eliminate International Child Labor


Sen. Harkin (left) and Labor Sec. Hilda Solis (right) at the event on Oct. 3

On October 3, 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor launched its annual Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The report contains more than 140 country profiles, focusing on hazardous work performed by children. The report includes major findings on each central government’s efforts to address the worst forms of child labor; gaps in legislation, enforcement, policies, and programs; and proposed actions for each government to consider in addressing those gaps.

The DOL hosted a special event in support of the report launch, with Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, Senator Tom Harkin, Ambassador of the Philippines Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., International Labor Organization – International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC) and others.  The DOL announced grants totaling $32.5 million to organizations focused on eliminating child labor internationally.

The FLA commends the Labor Department for its ongoing efforts to combat child labor. All FLA company affiliates have agreed, as stated in the FLA Workplace Code, that “no person shall be employed under the age of 15 or under the age for completion of compulsory education, whichever is higher,” and FLA affiliated universities, NGOs and companies will continue working together toward the elimination of child labor in global supply chains.