How not to do CSR: The case of Tatonka

There is an interesting discussion ongoing between the German CCC (particularly CIR) and Tatonka, a German family-owned outdoor company. In July, CIR published the results of a study on CSR of outdoor companies (see also Abendzeitung). With regard to Tatonka the study comes to the result that the company cannot prove that internationally agreed working standards are implemented in the supply chain. Tatonka is producing 100% of its items in one self-owned factory in Vietnam – in terms of CSR this opens huge opportunities. However, Tatonka selected the following strategy that might look transparent at first sight, but more resembles a non-moving.

July, 28th: Tatonka presents its “Open Factory Programme“, which allows every consumer of a Tatonka product to visit their factory in Vietnam. The aim is to “document the long-term and sustainable engagement in the factory”. Tatonka argues that most factory audits are only a checkbook exercise, which do not show the many efforts the company takes to improve working standards. Criticizing audit techniques is definitely right, even if we need to differentiate a little. And it might be a nice holiday highlight for a European consumer traveling in Vietnam to visit a garment factory. But the idea that a factory visit by customers might improve or “document” working standards in any way seems either extremely naive or like an attempt to produce some quick positive PR to oppose the criticism. As Tatonka rightly says, audit professionals are criticized for not identifying the major problems in a factory: so how should a consumer “document” working standards in a factory?! This is particularly problematic regarding standards that are more difficult to identify (e.g. freedom of association, discrimination, wage payments).

August, 13th: Tatonka publishes a press release in which they argue that the report by the CCC (CIR/INTOKA) is biased and partly wrong. To provide evidence for their argument, they publish the questionnaire that was sent to the CCC on their website. Looking at these, I start to believe that there is little competence regarding social standards on the side of Tatonka. A few examples:

  • Tatonka answers in the questionnaire (9.8) that it is member in the BSCI, which it is not. However, they even themselves argue elsewhere that they are momentarily screening and discussing different standards in the European Outdoor Group – in order to decide together, which standard they should all take. This might be a little late: The early movers have already joined the FWF, the ETI or the FLA.
  • Tatonka argues in the 13/8 press release that the BSCI built up the “Better Work” Programm (“das von der BSCI in Vietnam vor Ort aufgebaute ‘Better Work’ Programm”). This is new information to me, and may also be to the ILO- and IFC-funded “Better Work” program.
  • Tatonka argues that they want to combine the “open factory” programme with some standard audits. However, elsewhere they generally criticize audits…
  • Instead of thanking their stakeholders to indicate that the outdoor industry has insufficiently addressed social problems in the global production (as most companies do today) and integrate these groups into finding a solution, they actively starts to fight the CCC. In a press release they ask their customers to take part at the discussions about the outdoor industry that are hosted by the CCC in Germany and ask detailed questions about Tatonka.

This case gives me three ideas: (a) Some companies still think (or at least argue0) that the labour laws in developing countries are sufficient for a decent life of workers. Maybe they should be, but there is surely enough evidence that they are not. (b) Some companies (such as Tatonka) do not understand that campaigning organizations like the CCC have an important role in society – and instead of using their critique constructively, they keep on criticizing NGOs. (c) Using methods like questionnaires to evaluate companies has its limitations. It does not measure the actual working conditions in the supply chains but can only evaluate the tools companies use to improve the working conditions. However, the results can certainly be misread. But as NGOs need evidence in their campaigns, it might be a better strategy to look at certain factories. This, however, requires transparency by the companies.

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