How We Conduct Our Research
When we’re looking for brands, we’re wanting to see something special ethically about them, whether that’s a jacket made of recycled plastic bottles or paying workers fairer wages.
We have three main ways of conducting our research. Firstly, we read up online about the brand to see what information they share publicly. Secondly, we read independent assessments of supply chains, for example, if a brand is a member of the FairWear Foundation we can read their Brand Performance Check. Thirdly, we ask the brand lots of questions to fill gaps in our research.
The Key Questions
- Where do they manufacture?
- Are their factories independently certified?
- Do their factories pay a living wage?
- What materials do they use?
We’re looking for more sustainable materials here, organic cotton, recycled polyester etc.
These are the key questions we're wanting to answer, but of course we like to go more in depth than that. Below is a case study from a brand we recently brought on board, to show what our research in practice.
PALA Eyewear Case Study
We recently brought on board PALA Eyewear, whose vision is to provide access to eye care for people in Africa. Here’s how we conducted our research and the questions we asked.
Firstly, we read up on their website to find out what they said about their ethics. We could see they had a good mission and we wanted to support a brand helping to bring eye care to those in need. They were honest about where they were succeeding ethically but also that they were on a journey and could still improve. We liked that.
Transparency is key to an ethical supply chain. If we know what’s going on, we can celebrate the good whilst also knowing where the problems are, so we can work out how to solve them. Transparency also means the public eye is on a supply chain, helping to keep brands accountable.
Here’s a summary of what we found out about PALA from our online research:
- PALA provides grants directly to eye care projects in Africa.
- They weave their glasses cases out of recycled plastic in Ghana, where workers are paid a fair wage.
- They use responsibly sourced packaging.
- They carbon offset delivery of products and teams' flights.
- The factory making their sunglasses is based in China and has a regular SMETA audit.
- They had at least one pair of sunglasses made from recycled acetate.
Through this research, we could see that PALA placed high importance on sustainability and ethics in their business. They have many positive aspects of their supply chain, so we were confident that they were going to be a good brand. We still had a few questions though, so we sent them an email to start the conversation.
Here’s the questions we asked:
- Why did you pick the factory you chose to work with in China?
- Have you visited the factory yourselves? What did you think of the working conditions?
- How regular is the SMETA audit?
- Have you seen the audit and whether the factory has followed up on corrective action plans?
- Do you know if workers are paid a living wage?
- Where does the factory get its materials from? Are they made in house or do they get them from another supplier? If it’s another supplier is this factory audited as well?
This was followed by a half an hour phone call with the founder of PALA, John, who answered our questions and talked to us more about the vision behind the brand. John explained how PALA is set-up as a social enterprise to tackle the issue of lack of eye care in Africa. This is the driving focus behind the brand, seeing real change in Africa, helping to alleviate poverty through eye care. John then went on to answer the questions we had.
He explained they had chosen the factory as they produce high quality eyewear and have a good connection with the designers PALA works with. They hadn’t visited the factory themselves, as they had been focussing on trips to Africa where they would visit eye care projects and their glasses case weaving project.
The SMETA audit is every 2 years and John knew that one was coming up soon. PALA did have access to the audit and they had followed up with the factory about corrective action plans as they have direct email contact with the factory.
The factory workers are all paid above minimum wage, but PALA currently didn’t know whether this would be enough for a living wage.
PALA was aware that the factory that makes their sunglasses did get some of their materials from another supplier but they didn’t have substantial information on these suppliers. We also talked about the materials PALA uses and the differences between regular acetate and bio-acetate. PALA are increasingly using bio-acetate for their eyewear, which uses less toxic chemicals to produce.
Although there are still gaps in PALA’s knowledge, they had clearly thought through their supply chain. The fact they know when the next SMETA audit is and have direct contact with the factory to ask questions, are good signs that they are serious about an ethical supply chain. We were impressed also that they carbon offset delivery of products, as well as their teams flights. These are both details which would be easy to miss but show PALA’s serious commitment to ethical practice throughout their business. So it’s not surprising they have been awarded an Eco-Age Brandmark and meet Eco-Age’s principles for sustainable excellence.
After our questions were answered and we had a better grasp of what PALA were all about, we produced a document with the information we had gathered, what we thought was good and where we thought they could improve. We then sent this over to PALA to check we had got the facts right and also asked a couple of extra questions.
They then commented on a couple of things. This included a comment we made about pay in their factory in China. They followed this with a screenshot of an audit report of their factory. This was another strong sign we were working with a brand who knew what they were doing. They knew the audit report well enough to tell us about worker pay. Audit reports are boring, people don’t study these for fun, PALA wanted to know about the ethics of the factory.
Our conclusion after our research was that PALA are doing a great thing to raise awareness and fund eye care projects in Africa. They had carefully thought through their supply chain and are aiming for it to become increasingly sustainable. They had many positive aspects to their supply chain including their recycled plastic glasses cases supporting a weaving project in Ghana. This research led to us being confident that PALA are a good brand, so we started stocking their eyewear. You can read our report on PALA below or on each of the sunglasses product pages.
The Story of PALA
"640 million people are unable to access eye care." - PALA Eyewear
PALA is on a mission to change that. A pair of spectacles is an effective poverty alleviating tool, enabling the wearer to read, write and work. With each pair of sunglasses sold, PALA gives £5 to provide grants directly to eye care projects in Africa
Projects might include building a new Vision Centre, or dispensary, purchasing equipment or supporting an outreach programme – all sustainable, long term solutions that facilitate eye care, eye tests and provision of spectacles.
They’re also on a mission to be the most sustainable eyewear brand in the world.
The Sunglasses Case
Their sunglass cases are made from recycled plastic and weaved in communities in Ghana, where they provide a fair wage to their workers. As PALA have grown they have created job opportunities where workers have been taught to weave and earn an income.
PALA have started to incorporate bio-acetate and recycled acetate into their collection. The bio-acetate uses less harmful chemicals than conventional acetate and the recycled acetate is made from offcuts from the factory.
The factory PALA uses to make their premium eyewear is in China. It is independently SMETA audited and corrective action plans are given to help improve conditions in the factory. This is aimed to be done every 2 years. PALA have direct contact with the factory and follow up with them on their corrective action plans to help ensure these have been completed.
They’ve thought about packaging as well and that is all recycled or FSC certified.
And if that wasn’t enough, they also carbon offset delivery of products and teams' flights. They do this by providing cooking pots in Nigeria and Rwanda which hold heat for much longer than normal pots, reducing the need for extra fuel, therefore reducing CO2 emissions.
PALA has been awarded The Eco-Age Brandmark, which is given to brands who meet Eco-Age’s principles for sustainable excellence. Eco-Age will be supporting PALA to further improve their ethical and sustainable practice.
Everyone at PALA’s sunglass factory earns above a minimum wage, however we’d also like to see this further improved with the implementation of a living wage. Furthermore, we’d like to know more about the working conditions of the factory. It is positive that the factory is independently audited using SMETA as this helps to ensure good working conditions, however SMETA is not a certification so does not guarantee this.
People Make PALA