At the heart of global business, Supply Chain Management facilitates logistics optimisation, integration, automation, and the flow of information, procurement and materials required to stock distribution networks to ensure the process operates efficiently.
In light of the recent fur supplier scandals to have hit our retailers’ shelves, the importance of effective, and efficient supply chain operations, alongside responsible traceability, has really hit home.
While real fur is traditionally considered to be luxury material, it can be cheaper to cultivate than fake fur is to manufacture. ‘Mega-fur Farms’ in China and Poland, for example, are producing large quantities of animal fur very cheaply. As a result, manufacturers may use fox, racoon or rabbit fur, without accurately labelling them, to cut costs.
The recent misleading labelling of real fur-products as ‘fake fur’ has led to the relinquished freedom of choice for retailers unwittingly selling, and consumers, unknowingly purchasing ‘fake-fur’ under false pretenses. Discovering this may prove upsetting, as real fur is a contentious issue, with many questioning the humanity, sustainability and ethics of the trade.
Recent news investigations, namely undertaken by the BBC, have revealed that real animal fur items, labelled as fake; have been found on sale by, not only major London markets, but also prestigious online and Highstreet retailers.
Boohoo, Amazon, TK Maxx, and AX Paris are amongst many retailers, which have recently come under scrutiny for a variety of items for sale, of which traces of real animal fur have been found in all, including pom-pom headbands, fur on jumpers, and fur trim on hats and coats.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint it received about a pom-pom jumper being sold by the online retailer Boohoo, and another for a pom-pom headband sold on Amazon by retailer Zacharia Jewellers. Both products were unwittingly advertised as faux fur, yet following ASA’s commissioning of a scientific test, results revealed these products contained real animal fur – of which research was able to determine numerous animal sources, including rabbits, raccoon dogs, and mink.
Whereas previously widespread concern over animal cruelty had led to real fur very nearly disappearing from most UK high streets; the real bone of contention here, seems to be the argument between whether the advertiser is at fault, for incorrectly describing the items for sale, as faux fur, or whether it is the fault of the retailer, for having what is assumed to be a lack of traceability surrounding their supply chain.
Much like the so called ‘Horse Meat Scandal’ of 2013 – how does unwanted material get into the supply chain un-noticed and how can it be controlled and monitored?
Many retailers have apologised, admitting there is a lack of traceability surrounding their supply chain, and their supplier had not informed them of the composition of some of their products containing ‘fur’, but have since removed these from sale within their Highstreet and online stores respectively. There appears to be a supply chain issue, exacerbated by the ongoing battle between sustainability and affordability versus trend and convenience, and profitability.
In a similar way, confidence in the food supply chain was shaken during the ‘Horse Meat Scandal’ of 2013. A combination of opaque, complicated supply chains, and suppliers feeling pressured to cut costs led to unprohibited DNA being traced back to horse meat within the food supply chain. In the aftermath of the scandal, supermarkets moved to local suppliers, in an effort to form shorter, more transparent supply chains; with traceability of ingredients now a key priority in the food industry. Additionally, campaigns such as the ‘Field to Fork Festival’ promoted an awareness of where food comes from, encouraging consumers to care more about the quality and origin of their food.
With unwanted real fur contaminating the fashion supply chain, retailers can remedy this by also shifting to a localised, transparent and sustainable supply chain. Furthermore, the consumer mindset must change, to care less about price and trends, and more about how and where their clothes are made so suppliers do not feel pressured into reducing costs. With an increased awareness of the damaging impact of fast fashion, a proportion of consumers are now willing to pay more for sustainable fashion. As consumers become more mindful, so should control of the supply chain.
Holding suppliers and retailers accountable, ensuring complete responsibility and awareness of the products they agree to source, stock, and sell; and ultimately in-turn, protecting the retailer, by accurately and responsibly labelling items, in a way that accurately represents what the products actually are.
In-line with Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruling; irrespective of whether the product contains synthetic fur, real fur, or even traces of, the consumer needs to be able to fully consent to, and be fully aware of, the fact that the product they are purchasing contains, or is, real fur, from animals.
Whilst UK clothing retailers have been told they face penalties if they are found to be misleading customers about the origin of fur on their products; this ruling appears synonymous with recent FMCG industry news, that all pre-packaged sandwiches, stocked by retailers, must list every single ingredient on their packaging, to provide the consumer with full information, to enable them to fully consent to making their purchase; from a moral, and health perspective.
Ultimately, every consumer is entitled to the essential information required to enable them the freedom to make fact-based decisions on whether to purchase a product, within a variety of sectors, whether it be food, clothing, or other.
Going part-way to right this wrong requires retailers to implement tougher quality controls with trustworthy and responsible suppliers and manufacturers, ensuring the origin of the material and compliance of legislation and regulations; facilitating improved (if not full) control through every process and ‘touch point’ in the supply chain and manufacturing process.
These controls and legislative compliance requirements exist and are policed in the food and pharmaceutical sectors across the world and this hints toward a requirement for the fashion industry to have similar regulations and enforced compliance.