What Is Ethical Manufacturing and Why Should You Care?

June 11, 2021 5 min read

What Is Ethical Manufacturing and Why Should You Care?

Manufacturing. Is that a dirty word? Perhaps for some companies, but not here at ChicoBag.

The act of creating products in a factory is a big part of the world economy and conceptually an excellent way to provide jobs, meet customer needs, and efficiently mass produce. In reality, of course, manufacturing can also have shady, unsafe, and unethical practices.

Many companies are reluctant to talk about how and where they manufacture for fear of those shady methods getting exposed. It’s taboo.

But not at ChicoBag.

In fact, we want you to see it all. “Transparency in our supply chain,” says Sierra Brodeleit, Director of Operations & Finance in a  recent podcast,is really important to us and it’s really important to our customers. As part of our brand, trust with our customers is a big deal to us, including openness around where our products are made, how they’re made, and the impact they make.”

If you’re a Cliff’s Notes kinda person (we get it), feel free to  get the recap. It gives a great overview of how, where, and who does our manufacturing.

And if you’re more of an “ooo what actually makes my InstaPot work” type of reader, then this blog’s for you.

You see, ChicoBag has a long history of doing things a little different than others.

Starting with the way we manage our relationships. “Spending time at the factories is something we’ve always done,” Sierra points out. “When we first started, it began as a trust thing; we wanted to be sure what they were telling us is what is actually happening. The only way to really know, especially before video calls and technology caught up, was to go there.”

Our team has made it a point to physically see every single stage of the manufacturing process--where the bags are sewn, where the fabric is made and dyed, where the screenprinting happens, where the buckles are made, where the carabiners are made. “Regular visits morphed into relationship building after that initial trust.”

Pactics in Cambodia and Segeln Limited in China are our two primary manufacturers.

Pactics, our partner since 2017, makes most of our products, including all of our bags and face coverings. With creeping costs and one supplier relationship ending in China, ChicoBag was on the lookout. “Relationships were good with our suppliers,” says Sierra, “but the world was changing.” At an outdoor retailer tradeshow, Andy met Piet Holten, Founder and President of Pactics Co. Ltd. “It was really clear to us once we looked at other options that Pactics was a great fit for us.”

One of the reasons we love Pactics so much is their incredible focus on employee happiness and welfare. “Eighty percent of our employees are female, so we opened our onsite nursery to allow women to breastfeed,” says Piet. “We have free daycare for all employees’ children between three months of age up until 12-15 months, and after that we subsidise a portion of their childcare. There’s also a first aid room staffed by a nurse, a subsidised cafeteria, and Pactics pays half of the cost for motorbike helmets for all staff.”

In addition, Pactics is adamant in following the law. “Employees go through a rigorous week-long training programme, learning about safety, labour rights, sexual harassment and hygiene,” says Piet.

Watch this video all about the awesomeness that is Pactics.

Segeln Limited produces most of the items for our To-go Ware line.

Wendy and Andy, owners of Segeln Limited in Dongguan City, have been working with ChicoBag for over 10 years. Their factory is responsible for sewing, finishing and packing our products.

Protecting the planet and caring for its people go together like potatoes and cabbage, and our partnerships with Pactics is something we’re extraordinarily proud of. “At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about to us,” said Sierra, “having a brand that people can trust and finding partners we can trust.”

While manufacturing in China has a flavorful reputation, we are proud to do business with great partners who are committed to providing high-quality, ethically-made products. We hope to instill confidence with our growing community of customers and stakeholders that we are managing the environmental and social issues associated with the manufacturing of all products we sell.

We also hold ourselves accountable to great partnerships and ethical manufacturing when we’re not onsite.

Transparency is a key ingredient in our spicy sauce. We understand that it can be difficult to make the right purchasing decision, especially in a market full of greenwashing. There are other alternatives to ChicoBag brand products, but it is important to consider the price you pay for your reusable bag is not the same as the costs. We’re a member of the  Fair Labor Association, a  Green America Approved Business, and a  Certified B Corporation, and a  1% for the Planet member. These associations keep us accountable to our high standards for both people and the planet.

Did we mention our testing standards are higher than the average password reset?

The bulk of our testing is done by  Forensic Analytical Laboratories. For really specific tests, like our  ASTM facewear covering test, we might go through other proven labs. ChicoBag uses third-party lead contamination testing on every production run and upholds rigorous testing standards that exceed government regulations. Your safety is important to us, so we adhere to lead testing standards even more strict than the ones required by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). For parents: our products adhere to ASTM F963-07 which is the standard for children’s toys.

Regulations vary by state, so ChicoBag products are also tested quarterly to comply with the Toxics in Packaging Legislation currently adopted by 19 states. This means we not only test our bags for lead, but also for Cadmium, Hexavalent Chromium, and Mercury.

During COVID, we’re trying to be the best partners possible

As it’s been for many companies the last year, production and orders were unreliable during the pandemic. Forecasting was tough. “I feel for Pactics,” Sierra acknowledges, “and we’re trying to be the best partners possible, by either selling more or creating something new, something that creates balance. We look at all the options together and share the cost or profit that comes out of it.”

“We shared the risk,” agreed Piet of Pactics. “That worked extremely well.”

In all of our production, our goal is to not create waste, not do any harm, and leave the world a better place than we found it. “Manufacturing doesn’t always provide that result,” Sierra acknowledges, “but we ask weird questions, we dive deeper than a lot of other brands into how and why things are made. The decisions we make have an impact and we measure that impact at every step.”

At ChicoBag, learning and growing is a big part of how we improve as a company, and we will continue to be honest and transparent with you along the way--even when the questions are tough and the topics are spicy. We hope this gives you a little extra insight into how we uphold our Ethical Manufacturing commitment, but if you have any more specific questions, we’re all ears. Send ‘em to takeaction@chicobag.com.