Patagonia: a not-so-ethical brand?

Patagonia is one of the world’s leading sportswear brands. The company presents itself as virtuous and eco-responsible, but also as a defender of the environment. But are they really?

In September 2022, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard decided to bequeath his company so that all profits would be donated to associations fighting climate change. A highly symbolic action for a company with a green and ethical reputation.

And it’s not the first time. In recent years, the brand has multiplied its shock communication campaigns. In 2011, for example, the New York Times published an advert with the slogan “Don’t buy this jacket”, urging customers not to buy their jacket because it consumes so much water to produce.

In 2023, an investigation revealed by the Follow the Money collective, an association of independent Dutch journalists, revealed a reality totally at odds with the values promoted by Patagonia. The accusations levelled at the brand mainly concern working conditions within its supply chains. The company has long been an advocate of workers’ rights and ethical sourcing, but investigations have stained the brand’s image.

Some of Patagonia’s clothing is manufactured in a factory in Sri Lanka, which produces clothing for other fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara.

Deplorable working conditions

The journalists’ collective spoke to workers: harassment by superiors is commonplace. Some employees are even forced to use illegal substances to keep up and meet production targets.

Investigation reports have also revealed precarious working conditions. Employees are often subjected not only to excessive working hours, but also to an unsafe working environment, all for wages that are more than inadequate. These allegations have sparked outrage, as they are in total contradiction with the human and ethical values that Patagonia has always claimed.

In response to the controversy, Patagonia issued a statement acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations and pledging to conduct further investigations into its supply chains. The company also pledged to take immediate action to remedy any violations of its ethical standards.

Major repercussions on brand image

This scandal could have a major impact on Patagonia’s reputation as a pioneer of ethical fashion, having been widely acclaimed for its social responsibility and CSR policies.

Moreover, the case could also serve to highlight wider challenges facing the “ethical” fashion industry, highlighting the difficulties in monitoring the entire supply chain. The case also illustrates the complexity of ethical issues and the responsibility of players in the fashion industry.

As the company strives to restore its reputation, it is essential for the entire sector to take steps to ensure ethical practices and optimal working conditions, throughout the entire product manufacturing process.

A propos de Claire SCHMITT