Transparency is required in order for information about how a product is produced to be gathered and evaluated. This is in contrast to usual commercial practice. Treating goods as commodities is the extreme expression of lack of transparency, but it applies to any product whose provenance cannot be easily determined. The diamond you buy on 5th Avenue may well have once been pried from the dead hand of its owner. Likewise the organic food you buy at your local coop may have been harvested for free by a WWoofer camping in a tent in the bushes on the outskirts of an organic farm or by illegal immigrants working a 12 hour day on piece rate earning less than the minimum wage. The organic rice you buy may have been grown in ground contaminated by lead arsenate used on the cotton that historically grew there.
SecrecyStandard practice is illustrated by a WalMart spokesman's comment on suppliers in Bangladesh following a disastrous fire at a garment factory:
We don’t comment on specific supplier relationships.
However, due to the spotlight on its operations WalMart has issued new guidelines to suppliers which address many of the issues raised, "Ethical Sourcing Update: Fact Sheet for Supplier Letter Announcement.
Following the 2013 collapse of a flimsy garment factory in Bangladesh that killed 800 people, a few clothing manufacturers began disclosing information about where and how their products were made.
Notes and references
- "Documents Indicate Walmart Blocked Safety Push in Bangladesh" article by Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times December 5, 2012
- "Wal-Mart Toughens Fire Safety Rules for Suppliers After Bangladesh Blaze" article by Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times January 22, 2013
- "Some Retailers Say More About Their Clothing’s Origins" article by Stephanie Clifford in The New York Times May 8, 2013