We operate in a global marketplace. Textile manufacture and production is one of the largest industries worldwide, accounting for around 4% of GDP and over 6% of the world’s employment opportunities. (Source WTO)
Our operations at Schoolblazer are a tiny part of this industry. Despite this we recognise and embrace the fact that we have an important role to play in ensuring that our industry rises to the challenges it faces.
Garment manufacturing is a relatively lower skilled, lower wage industry. It tends to be developed early in the industrialisation cycle. As a country develops and the skills and expertise of workers and managers increase, garment production tends to decline. The production skills learned making garments are then applied to higher value-added sectors such as electronics and vehicles. Textile production then moves on to new countries. However, newly emerging countries tend to have poorly developed regulatory regimes and labour standards. The constant price pressure on retailers creates a tendency to cut corners, creating genuine areas of concern.
The solution is not to retreat to sourcing all product in the UK and Europe. There is no guarantee that these factories are not cutting corners of their own, and we have been unable to find factories who can meet our standards.
Instead we are unashamed globalists.
We see global trade as a fair bargain. We get beautifully made, high quality clothes using the best of the world’s fabric technologies, at prices that our customers can afford. In return we pay our suppliers fairly so that they can offer honourable, well-paid employment and the opportunity as individuals, businesses and countries to grow and develop.
Done well, global trade provides one of the best opportunities to fight poverty and injustice around the globe. We set out to do it well.
To achieve this we believe in working with a small number of suppliers with whom we can build genuine commitment and trust. This ensures that we know every part of their business and are 100% certain that they share and meet our values and high ethical standards. We have 10 core suppliers who make over 80% of our goods. 8 of these are overseas.
At Schoolblazer we believe that free and fair trade is an important way to spread wealth around the world.
We take our responsibility to improving the welfare of everybody who contributes towards the creation of our garments extremely seriously. All factories producing products for us, wherever they are based, must comply with our Code of Conduct for Suppliers.
As responsible global citizens, and realists, we know that poor working practices are no respecters of borders or laws, as recent scandals involving slave conditions in some of Leicester’s textile factories show. The solution is to adopt consistent standards for working practices across our supply base and ensure that these standards are adhered to.
Schoolblazer are the only independent schoolwear retailer in the UK to be accredited as a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). The Ethical Trading Initiative is an alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the globe. Their vision is a world where all workers are free from exploitation and discrimination, and enjoy conditions of freedom, security and equity.
Schoolblazer’s Code of Conduct for Suppliers follows the guidelines set by the ETI, but works to a higher standard on child labour. (We have absolutely zero tolerance; the ETI standards “work towards elimination”.)
Most of the products sold by Schoolblazer fall under our own Schoolblazer and Squadkit brands. We prefer to source in this way because having direct control allows us to manage both quality and ethical compliance. These products are produced by a small number of factories or suppliers with whom we have built strong relationships over a number of years: at present 12 factories produce over 90% of our products – Nine of these are overseas, and three in the UK. These factories are required to provide evidence of compliance to a formal audit of our Code of Conduct and are available for inspection at any time by a member of the Schoolblazer team or their appointed representative. Our major factories and suppliers are visited at least annually and compliance with our Code of Conduct forms an important part of this visit.
Suppliers of products not carrying the Schoolblazer or Squadkit brand are required to confirm in writing that they, and their suppliers, adhere to our Code of Conduct.
Should we, at any time, have any grounds for belief that these standards are not being adhered to, or should a supplier of non-Schoolblazer or non-Squadkit branded merchandise fail to confirm that their factories conform to our Code of Conduct, then we will inform the school concerned, and re-source the relevant product immediately.
There is no forced, bonded or involuntary prison labour.
Workers are not required to lodge ‘deposits’ or their identity papers with the employer and are free to leave their employer after reasonable notice.
Workers, without distinction, have the right to join or form trade unions of their own choosing and to bargain collectively.
The employer adopts an open attitude towards the legitimate activities of trade unions and their organisational activities.
Workers’ representatives are not discriminated against and have access to carry out their representative functions in the workplace.
Where the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining is restricted under law, the employer facilitates, and does not hinder, the development of parallel means for independent and free association and bargaining.
A safe and hygienic working environment shall be provided, bearing in mind the prevailing knowledge of the industry and of any specific hazards.
Adequate steps shall be taken to prevent accidents and injury to health arising out of, associated with, or occurring in the course of work, by minimising, so far as is reasonably practicable, the causes of hazards inherent in the working environment.
Workers shall receive regular and recorded health and safety training, and such training shall be repeated for new or reassigned workers.
Access to clean toilet facilities and potable water, and, if appropriate, sanitary facilities for food storage shall be provided.
Accommodation, where provided, shall be clean, safe, and meet the basic needs of the workers.
The company observing the standards shall assign responsibility for health and safety to a senior management representative.
There shall be no recruitment of child labour (under 16).
Young people aged 16 and 17 should not be employed on a regular basis.
On the rare occasions that young people aged 16 and 17 are employed then they shall not be employed at night or in hazardous conditions.
Wages and benefits paid for a standard working week meet, at a minimum, national legal standards or industry benchmarks, whichever is higher. In any event wages should always be high enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income.
All workers shall be provided with written and understandable information about their employment conditions in respect of wages before they enter employment, and about the particulars of their wages for the pay period concerned each time that they are paid.
Deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure shall not be permitted nor shall any deductions from wages not provided for by national law be permitted without the express and informed permission of the worker concerned. All disciplinary measures should be recorded.
Working hours comply with national laws , collective agreements, and the provisions of the below, whichever affords the greatest protection for workers. The below are based on international labour standards.
Working hours, excluding overtime, shall be defined by contract, and shall not exceed 48 hours per week.
All overtime shall be voluntary. Overtime shall be used responsibly, taking into account all the following: the extent, frequency and hours worked by individual workers and the workforce as a whole. It shall not be used to replace regular employment. Overtime shall always be compensated at a premium rate, which is recommended to be not less than 125% of the regular rate of pay.
The total hours worked in any seven-day period shall not exceed 60 hours, except where covered by the below.
Working hours may exceed 60 hours in any seven-day period only in exceptional circumstances where all of the following are met:
Workers shall be provided with at least one day off in every seven-day period or, where allowed by national law, two days off in every 14-day period.
There is no discrimination in hiring, compensation, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, age, disability, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, union membership or political affiliation.
To every extent possible work performed must be on the basis of a recognised employment relationship established through national law and practice.
Obligations to employees under labour or social security laws and regulations arising from the regular employment relationship shall not be avoided through the use of labour-only contracting, sub-contracting or home-working arrangements, or through apprenticeship schemes where there is no real intent to impart skills or provide regular employment, nor shall any such obligations be avoided through the excessive use of fixed-term contracts of employment.
The biggest single polluting factor in the garment industry is society’s demand for cheap, disposable clothing. According to the WWF, even a simple cotton t-shirt takes almost 3,000 litres of water to produce and the carbon content of a typical garment is around 11kg. We have committed ourselves to finding a better way. We have started by adopting a single core principle:
The best way to reduce the environmental impact from clothing is to manufacture fewer things and ensure that each item will last. We design all of our garments to be worn for at least 2 years – that’s well over 100 times. In contrast, the average fashion garment is worn just 7 times before being discarded. This requires a clear and stringent approach to textile development, garment testing and quality control, but minimises the total cost for the planet and our customers.
As part of this we are introducing a repair service in autumn 2021 to enhance the longevity of our garments.
We do still need to produce new garments, so we are committed to building an environmentally responsible supply chain
We have adopted five core initiatives to ensure that the items we produce under our Schoolblazer or Limitless brands to minimise our environmental impact. We know we could do more and plan to add more initiatives over time but we are a small part of a giant industry. These initiatives let us make the biggest impact quickly and help us drive wider industry change.
We are proud members of the Better Cotton Initiative/BCI. The Better Cotton Initiative/BCI connects people and organisations throughout the cotton sector, from field to store, to promote measurable and continuing improvements for the environment, farming communities and the economies of cotton-producing areas. By buying cotton products from Schoolblazer, you’re supporting the Better Cotton Initiative/BCI Farmers who use water efficiently, care for soil health and natural habitats, reduce use of the most harmful chemicals and respect workers’ rights and wellbeing. Better Cotton is sourced via a system of Mass Balance.
Target: In 2021 over 25% of our cotton was sourced as Better Cotton. We are committed to sourcing 50% of our cotton as Better Cotton by the end of 2022 and as close to 100% as we can by 2024.
Where we can, we plan to move to using recycled polyester. At present this fibre is more expensive and often doesn’t perform as well as “new fibre”, potentially compromising our “Durability = Sustainability” principle. This is a significant issue given the number of wears our garments experience, so we are proceeding carefully, working with reputable suppliers at the forefront of this technology and fully testing all our garments in use before adoption. We are also taking great care to ensure that any fibre with recycled claims is genuinely recycled – this is a real issue given the lack of any traceable chemical markers in these yarns and the opacity of the supplier base, many of whom are based in China.
Target: In 2021 almost 15% of our polyester came from verified recycled sources, principally plastic bottles. We are targeting 25% by the end of 2022 over 90% by 2024.
Water pollution through the dyeing and finishing process is a massive global problem. We ensure that all of the factories supplying fabric to our supply chain have full water treatment plants and are fully inspected and compliant with the most stringent environmental legislation.
Target: 100% Audited compliance across our mills supplying own label product.
We have set ourselves ambitious targets to reduce the use of single-use plastics throughout our supply chain. We need to be careful as often these plastics are protecting our fabrics or garments during transport and simply eliminating them would lead to more damage and wastage, easily outweighing the environmental cost of the plastics and compromising our core, “Durability = Sustainability” principle. Where we need to continue to use SUP’s we ensure that they are disposed of carefully and recycled where possible. In 2020 we began to ship our jackets and other products in reusable outer packaging. This is returned to the factory after use, eliminating plastic bags.
In 2021 we are trialling the removal of all plastic packaging on coloured garments “ship naked” in a number of schools with a plan to roll this out if successful in 2022.
These actions meant that in 2021 we reduced our usage of Single Use plastics by over 200%. We have targeted a 50% Reduction in SUP vs 2018 benchmark by end 2022, based on an assumption that we can rollout our “ship naked” plan to our remaining schools. At the same time we are ensuring that as much of the remaining Single Use Plastics we use in our business are made from recycled materials and are then recycled again after use.
We are very conscious of our energy usage. We are working hard on all aspects of our operation to minimise our Carbon Footprint. Where we cannot, we have partnered with Climate partner, the leading Carbon management company (www climatepartner.com) to offset the carbon dioxide that we produce.
We now offset 100% of our Operational CO2.We are on-track to reduce our core operational CO2 usage by 20% by the end of 2024 with energy saving measures in our warehouse and offices.
1 – World Wildlife Fund, The Impact of a Cotton T Shirt
2 & 3 – Wrap, Sustainable Clothing Action Plan
4 – Barnardos
5 – Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Minimum