Veja Shows Us What An Ethical Supply Chain Looks Like

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 months ago | Features

Image: organic cotton harvest in Ceará, 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 partly for this reason that the brand received Ethical Consumer's best rating for supply chain management in July 2016 and why their transparent, low-impact supply chain continues to impress us. Walking through their cotton production, for example, 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 320 families. These families live off organic farming, not just through employment access, but also as a way to grow their own food. And the increased use of organic farming methods in this region – rather than its chemical-laden conventional alternative – has resulted in both better soil biodiversity and better health for the local community.

Video: behind the scenes of Veja's organic cotton production. 

Not only that, but 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. “Working directly with ADEC has allowed Veja to establish a seamless, human-based business model that avoids middlemen and makes sure that reasonable profits go directly to the producers themselves,” 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 60 families of Seringeiros living in the forest and harvesting from the trees. Through the use of a new technology called FDL (Folha Desfumada Liquida – Liquid Smoked Sheet), these Seringeiros can now transform latex from the trees into rubber sheets, without any industrial intermediary processes. This effectively allows the Seringueiros to sell semi-finished products and receive a higher income – about which Veja is very passionate.

Video: behind the scenes of Veja's wild rubber harvesting.

“Since the 60’s, the increasing use of synthetic rubber derived from petroleum has resulted in a very low price for natural rubber,” the brand says. Which is why so many of “the inhabitants of the forest have thus moved from rubber tapping to more profitable activities such as cattle-raising and wood extraction which both involve land clearing.” From Veja’s perspective, then, the survival of the Amazonian rainforest is dependent on more sustainable management of its resources – including latex, which is tapped from the trees. This is why the brand is so committed to paying a fair price for latex and guaranteeing a better income for the rubber tappers they work with.

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. But the transparency doesn’t even end there. The brand’s shoe assembly also takes place in Brazil, at a factory in Vale dos Sinos, where workers receive fair pay, dignified conditions, and employment rights. From here, the shoes are transported by ship to France, where they are stored and dispatched by Ateliers Sans Frontières – a French social charity helping disadvantaged individuals reintegrate into society.

In addition to all this, Veja has been very open about its commitment to hold zero stock, by tightly controlling production and only producing orders placed six months in advance. Another important priority for the brand is reducing emissions and energy use ­– which means using all recycled and recyclable packaging and using ENERCOOP (a cooperative of green electricity) in its Headquaters. Oh and did we mention that the brand doesn't advertise? Instead, the resources saved are integrated into Veja's production chain. According to The Guardian, this overall approach represents “‘commercial disobedience’, because it turns existing economic systems upside down. Unlike competitors, [Veja] refuses to pursue low prices at the expense of workers' rights and fair pay.” Which makes their supply chain pretty damn impressive, if you ask us.

Image: the Chico Mendès extractive reserve in Brazil, where wild Amazonian rubber is harvested to produce Veja's soles. Image source


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