Inside Veja's Ethical Supply Chain

by: Rosie Dalton | 9 months ago | Features

Image: the V-10 model being assembled in Brazil. Image source.

When Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion first established Veja in 2004, their goal was to achieve high social and environmental standards. And that’s just what they have done, advocating for eco-farming and workers’ rights, as well as campaigning against deforestation. By working directly with small producer co-operatives in Brazil, and using materials like organic cotton and wild Amazonian rubber for their sneakers, this progressive French brand has changed the way we think about the fashion supply chain. Rather than keeping this aspect of the business hidden from its consumers, for instance, Veja openly shares its production, manufacturing and supplier locations, as well as the price it pays for raw materials.

It is for this reason that Veja's transparent, low-impact supply chain continues to impress us. Walking through their cotton production, it’s clear how integral the company has been to the livelihood of local farming communities. In Brazil’s economically disadvantaged state of Ceará, Veja supports the employment of nearly 200 families. Through buying their organic and fair trade cotton directly from the farmers, Veja not only ensures the survival of these families, but also that of the environment. Because unlike conventional cotton farming, organic cotton actually helps improve soil health and biodiversity.  

Image: Sr Manoel, a cotton producer in Ceará. Image source.

For over 14 years now Veja has also been working closely with ADEC (Associação de Desenvolvimento Educacional e Cultural) – an association of growers located in Tauá, Brazil. Through this association, producers can pool their harvests into one warehouse, which means minimising cotton transformation costs by working together. "Dealing directly with ADEC allows us to cut out the middleman and thus increase producer income," the brand explains. This also involves negotiating an agreed-upon cotton price per kilo and providing a fair trade premium on top of this, to cover the cost of official certifications and help improve the producers’ standard of living.

So if this is the level of detail that Veja puts into the social and environmental impact of its shoe uppers, then what are they doing about their soles? For these, the brand sources wild rubber by working with an association of seringeiros (rubber tappers) inside the Chico Mendès extractive reserve, in the Brazilian state of Acre. “The Amazon is the only place on earth where rubber trees grow in the wild,” Veja explains. So it is here that the brand has struck up relationships with 120 families to harvest wild rubber for their soles and increase the economic value of the forest in order to protect it.

Image: Antonio, a seringueiro, tapping rubber. Image source.

Veja soles are made of 18-22% natural rubber and, for every kilo of harvested rubber, 1.2 hectares of forest is protected each year. Since 2004, the brand has purchased 195 tons of wild rubber directly from seringueiro communities, which has allowed them to preserve 120 000 hectares of the Amazon forest. "In 2017, Veja bought wild Brazilian rubber for 2.77€/kg," the brand explains. "By comparison, synthetic rubber is negotiated according to crude oil prices and varies between 1.35€/kg and 2.55€/kg."

It's clear, then, that Veja’s supply chain management is all about ensuring sustainable harvesting of raw materials and guaranteeing fair work for their producers. This extends to the shoe assembly process as well, which also takes place in Brazil, at a factory in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. "In the clothing and fashion industries, the factory is often where all global economic dysfunction is focused: unsafe, even unsanitary working conditions, highly eroded wages and little concern for the environment," Veja explains. Which is why the brand manufactures in factories and workshops where International Labour Organization (ILO) rules are followed, along with additional critera, such as proximity to quality housing and freedom of expression. 

From there, Veja sneakers are warehoused and dispatched all over the world through Ateliers Sans Frontières – a social reintegration association located on the outskirts of Paris. So how does Veja remain competitive in the market, then, when it costs 5 to 7 times more to make these sneakers, due to the sustainability of the raw materials and the fair trade principles adhered to throughout production? According to Veja, they achieve this by eliminating advertising. "When you deconstruct a product, and you have a truly transparent approach, reality becomes more fascinating than any advertising fiction or marketing story," Veja says

You can shop our range of Veja sneakers here

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