When MEC Label creates a backpack, tent or t-shirt, a complex decision-making process happens before that product is available for members. One of the biggest things for us to consider is where to make it.
Over the past few decades, global economic changes have led many businesses to manufacture their products overseas. Working with factories around the world can create a pathway out of poverty for some people, and can positively influence workplace standards more broadly. But it can also lead to exploitation if steps aren’t taken to ensure the fair treatment of workers, since some countries still lack adequate laws and enforcement to protect them.
How MEC fits in the global supply chain
MEC developed our first supplier code of conduct and factory audit program in the early 2000s, and our current standards and audit programs are in place for every factory that makes MEC Label products. We’re currently making products in 15 countries, including Canada and the US.
Human rights and labour violations have no boundaries. We’re always communicating with the factories we work with through audits, remediation plans, training and empowerment projects (such as Fair Trade). Through our programs, we’ve uncovered and remediated issues around health and safety, excessive overtime, inaccurate records, forced labour and child labour. As part of working in a global supply chain, it’s our responsibility as a co-op and our promise to members to know where and how your MEC Label gear and clothing are made.
How MEC selects and onboards factories
Our teams make sure the factory meets our requirements for quality, innovation, and social and environmental responsibility before we start working with them. This process sets the foundation for a long-lasting partnership:
What do we need to create?
It all starts with a question: why does MEC Label want to create something new? Once we have a clear reason and goals, we look at timelines, volume and other requirements to help us narrow down our search for factory partners to make what we have in mind.
Look for partners
The MEC sourcing team reaches out to potential partners and set up site visits to assess whether factories have the right equipment to make our products, along with their overall operations and production flow. We also look into their worker benefits and the health and safety of their facility.
Assess and audit
After non-disclosure paperwork gets signed, it’s time to dig into the details. We discuss and agree on things like sampling, costing and timelines.
Our social and environmental responsibility team organizes a third-party audit of the factories. If a zero-tolerance issue is found (e.g. child labour, inaccurate records or paying below minimum wage), we stop moving forward with the product until the violation is remediated. If the factory can’t find a way to fix the problem, our sourcing team will look for another supplier. For other areas of non-compliance, corrective action plans get put in place and agreed to with firm timelines to fix the issue.
Sign a partner agreement
The partnership becomes official when the vendor agrees to the MEC Vendor Manual. This is the contract that outlines everything from our supplier code of conduct and environmental programs to the nitty-gritty details about accounts payable and distribution.
Any supplier that makes MEC Label products, or supplies the raw materials for MEC Label products, need to agree to this contract. Once they do, our social and environmental responsibility team and sourcing team can give the green light to move forward with a supplier.
Training from MEC
All factories get training from MEC; they either travel to MEC head office or our team travels to their facility. Along with training, it’s a chance to meet the rest of the team and sort out future plans. Depending on timing, the training may happen after some initial work with our MEC Label team has started.
Make MEC Label products
When all the pieces are in place, work between the factory and MEC Label team kicks off. Merchants, designers, developers and production staff figure out the best way to bring new products to members.
How we evaluate factories
Once a factory starts making products, we move to the regular MEC audit cycle of 6 to 18 months (the timing varies depending on areas of non-compliance that came up in previous audits). Factories are audited by third-party Fair Labor Association-accredited auditors that speak the local language and are experts in local laws and culture. The auditors spend one to two days at each factory to inspect health and safety conditions, meet with managers and talk to workers.
We expect all supply chain partners to adhere and support our supplier code of conduct. They also need to post the code in the workplace (we have versions for all languages in our supply chain) and provide staff with training about the code every year.
What happens after audits
MEC doesn’t use a pass or fail audit system with factories. After each audit, the factory gets an action plan to correct all issues, and we support each facility as they remediate each item that comes up. Our program goal is to instill continuous improvement, transparency and open dialogue.
If we do find something serious, we want to see the issues corrected. We offer training and support to help solve problems, as automatically leaving a factory that has a problem could increase the risks to workers in the supply chain. However, if we can’t reach an agreement on remediation with the factory, then we move our business to a place that can meet our workplace standards. Our aim is to build trust with factories, so we work closely with them throughout the audit and any improvement plans.
We share what we learn through audits with our Board of Directors and senior management team, and report back to members.
If any workers in the MEC Label global supply chain want to raise concerns, we want them to be protected from reprisals and not to be victimized for whistleblowing in good faith. We provide and train factory partners on our grievance standards and guidelines, which they can use to develop their own workplace grievance systems. We recommend they include their employees in the process of developing a grievance system, as it’s a good way to build trust and adopt the system.
If a worker does have a concern, ideally they feel comfortable reporting it to their direct supervisor or senior manager. Should they want to reach out to MEC directly, we have a confidential grievance channel they can use. If MEC receives a grievance, we have a process in place:
- Acknowledge: MEC acknowledges that we’ve received a grievance (in writing, verbally or face to face, depending on the situation).
- Assess: We assess if the grievance is related to one of our factory partners, and if it’s related to a breach of our supplier code of conduct or a recognized international human rights norm. If it meets any of these, then we accept the complaint, move forward and, if needed, ask for more info and clarification from the complainant.
- Review and action plan: MEC’s social and environmental responsibility team reviews all received information. If a non-compliance is found, a corrective action plan is prepared and agreed upon by MEC and the factory. MEC keeps the complainant’s name confidential, and we only share pertinent info with the factory managers to address the root cause of the grievance and create the action plan.
- Respond: MEC communicates back to the complainant, sharing what we found and the actions and timeline for remediation.
If we need to, MEC will ask the Fair Labor Association for support with an investigation. We’ll also follow up with the factory on the corrective action plan through verification audits.
If you have questions about how MEC works with factories and mills, please email our social and environmental responsibility team.
Top photo: As part of Fashion Revolution, we shared photos of some of the many people who make MEC Label products.