Zeeman is taking steps to counter the myth that there is always something fishy about very cheap clothing. The Dutch discounter will be putting the cards on the table from now on.
"We regularly receive questions from customers about this," says CSR responsible Arnoud Van Vliet in Dutch business paper FD: "If it is that cheap, it has got to be made by underpaid and exploited seamstresses in Oriental sweatshops..." To change that perception, flyers regarding corporate social responsibility will be displayed in the check-out zone. The chain's annual report also contains a detailed summary of its inspections of their suppliers.
In 2017, inspectors visited 58 factories in the Far East and Turkey, and encountered 67 major shortcomings, ranging from a lack of emergency exits to incomplete time registration. "In cases like the latter, we can not check whether employees are paid correctly," says Van Vliet. The factories involved have been informed about the results, and "All of the findings from those investigations have been dealt with and solved," he claims.
Wages also remain a sore spot: "Living wages are an issue we can not solve on our own," says Van Vliet. "Zeeman is always just one of the manufacturer's clients, so we think it is important to tackle this issue along with other clothing chains. We have to work together or else we will not manage."
“This shows guts”
Zeeman is not the first apparel chain to make statements about its own social responsibility, but it is one of the few to name the injustices. The company also shows the dilemmas it faces. "We want to prove that we take this seriously," Van Vliet continues: "Being open about the issues also forces us to actually do something about them. We will take matters to the suppliers and ask: how are we going to solve this?"
"Pointing out what goes wrong shows guts," Clean Clothes campaign's Suzan Cornelissen responds. She likes the fact that Zeeman is releasing a list of its manufacturers next year. Still, she has questions about the way Zeeman collects its information. "They do it through social auditing, where a commercial company talks to employees in the factories, always announced in advance. We would prefer Zeeman to get in touch with unions and NGOs and employees when they are not at work."
Simultaneously, Cornelissen is offering to help Zeeman: "We have got connections with unions and NGOs and when we hear something is off, we can talk about it to Zeeman," she adds.