TFT's Tom Pienkowki shares his recent experience of visiting stone quarries and factories in southern India.
In the six weeks I’ve been a No Exploitation Project Officer I’ve learned that TFT has a do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have-in-your-pockets attitude. This was very much apparent during my recent visit to natural stone quarries and cutting factories in southern India. The supplier we visited lead in some aspects of social responsibility, such as building public toilets. At the same time it failed in other areas, such as paying minimum wages. The attitude of the management was also mixed. They saw basic health and safety provisions as a cost – an added hoop they had to jump through, and one which they’d perhaps rather avoid.
Many of these issues were not a case of going above and beyond, but meeting minimum legal standards. It’s clear TFT’s main concern isn’t the working conditions a factory or company has now, but what it wants to do to improve things and the action needed to be taken to meet the challenges in doing so. Of course, transforming supply chains is more challenging on the occasions there appears to be limited willingness from the management of factories and companies to change. Gaurav, one my colleagues in the TFT India team exemplifies this do-what-you-can-with-what-you’ve-got attitude. Instead of flying off the hook, as I was tempted to do a few times, he used a whole range of approaches and tools to make progress with the management. Many issues that at first looked almost impossible to address became tractable. I compare this experience to a recent conference I went to, which focused on ethical trading in business. Social responsibility leaders in civil society, business, government and academia – the leading edge in ethical business – were all represented. But what struck me was the gap between best practice and the vast majority of companies that struggle to gain competitive advantages through social responsibility distinction. How do we move the centre of the bell curve towards better practice? The TFT solution is to treat each site and each challenge as a small step towards wider progress. Only by stepping-up and engaging with the laggards and the leaders can we transform supply chains.
This attitude can invite criticism. To the observer it may seem that TFT is working with companies that – let’s face it – are still failing at social and environmentally responsible practice, and may even be breaking the law. It may also seem that TFT is working with companies that may want to use TFT as a shield against criticism. But that is not the case. We have, and will continue to drop companies that don’t walk the talk when it comes to implementing best practice. We at TFT also need the voices of others to highlight the failings of companies, even those we work with. This pressure creates a space we can use to leverage change within those companies. In this respect, the idea of murmuration is happening, step by step.