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Outland Denim and the Theory of Empowerment, Sustainability, and Transparency
The concept of Outland Denim instigated about a decade ago when its founder, James Bartle was inspired after watching the movie “Taken”. The main premise of the movie involves a fictional plot where a young girl is kidnapped by human traffickers but it moved Bartle profoundly and he started to work on Outland Denim. Bartle made the most of his opportunity of working with a non-profit governmental organization that solely strived for the improvement of the living standards of exploited and trafficked women, mainly concentrated in Pacific and East Asia. Instead of feeling helpless in the face of this problem, Bartle felt the anguish of many young girls and women being tortured at the expense of human trafficking and started working to provide sustainable and partly lucrative career paths for these victims CITATION Lor19 \l 1033 (Delaney, 2019).
Business leaders across the globe can no longer satisfy the consumer body with sky-rocketing financial figures and booming performances in the wake of untoward circumstances arising from environmental degradation, climate change crisis, and social exclusivity. Regulatory authorities, consumers, and potential investors are demanding unwavering transparency and actions demonstrating corporate social responsibility by companies and business owners CITATION Asm19 \l 1033 (Asmussen, 2019). Outland Denim has successfully proved to be an outlier by establishing its niche in the garment industry as a socially sustainable, environment-friendly and corporately transparent brand. Provision of opportunities to vulnerable segments of the society as a business trajectory makes Outland Denim socially sustainable and the consumers are quite confident while purchasing and using the brand’s products. The consumer body is well aware of the reduced carbon emission as a sustainable practice by the brand to preserve resources for future generations. Women who endured exploitation at the hands of human traffickers were proffered a career progression with opportunities of education and acquisition of skills, and could finally earn a living wage which was not possible in their previous modes of livelihood. The target of ‘zero exploitation’ throughout the supply chain bespeaks Outland Denim as a transparent brand working towards combating poverty.
Outland Denim’s business model
Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
The bodies constituting the suppliers and manufacturers at Outland Denim continually ensure that all the employees possess and recognize their rights of collective bargaining and association. The seamstresses and employees are also free to join various union memberships.
The brand’s code of conduct delineates that if any employee exercises such right, there shall be no retaliation. Vice versa, no employee shall be offered any reimbursement or payment to prevent them from exercising such prerogatives. At the same time, the company policy adopts a collaborative and conducive attitude towards the undertakings of employees who are members of trade unions. Representatives of all the employees in the trade unions are also protected from all kinds of workplace discrimination. Even if these rights of freedom of associating and collective bargaining are regulated by law, the company commits to safeguard the independence and rationality required to exercise such rights.
Elimination of forced or compulsory labor
Any form of involuntary or forced labor shall be not allowed in the manufacturing or supply facilities, factory, or the company outlets. Apart from practicing a no-discrimination policy in the workplace, Outland Denim closely monitors and cares for the well-being of all employees, particularly the migrants and those vulnerable women who still face a threat from their previous places of employment or human traffickers. Outland Denim also takes great pride in ensuring that its potential employees are not under a debt of any hiring or recruitment agencies as is the case of many other contemporary businesses that do not look out for the financial status of their employees. Apart from adopting a debt-free labor employment policy, the company also takes strong action if any discriminatory incident is reported. All the employees are treated on the principles of egalitarianism and fairness and there is no inequity based on disabilities, track records, political affiliation or social origins.
Abolition of child labor
The manufacturers and suppliers at Outland Denim have a staunch policy against the employment of individuals under the age of 18. The economic exploitation of minors resulting from the circumstances of their cruel or humble backgrounds is not accepted by the employment framework of Outland Denim. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ratifies that children until the age of 18 should be allowed to flourish in their capacities with dignity. Bonded labor would reduce the opportunities and chances of their growth, markedly declining their untapped potential. Outland Denim is profoundly aware of this convention and includes terms and conditions in its employment contracts which combat child labor. Even if the company hires employees falling in the age bracket of 15-18, special considerations are observed in their treatment in terms of working hours and the nature of work.
Outland Denim developed these conditions based on Conventions 138 and 182 of the International Labor Organization-1999 in the pursuit of prohibiting child labor CITATION Cre96 \l 1033 (Creighton, 1996).
Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation
Discriminatory behavior based on gender, age, nationality, caste, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, marital status, union membership and/or political affiliation is not tolerated in Outland Denim. Access to training, acquisition of skills or educational opportunities, promotion in the workplace hierarchy is based on the principles of fairness and equity and this is laid out very specifically in the business model of Outland Denim. The termination or retirement of the employment contract also results from poor performance or the unforeseen health conditions of any employee. Occupational and employment practices are free from any bias and the recruitment process is transparent for each one of its potential employees. Outland Denim, its manufacturers and suppliers are constantly working towards the promotion of a culture that is inclusive of diversity and equality. The company developed these aspects according to Convention 111 of the International Labor Organization- Discrimination CITATION Nie94 \l 1033 (Nielsen, 1994).
Incorporation of post-modernism in Outland Denim’s business model
In many organizational studies, the term ‘post-modern’ has gained wide recognition in many intellectual circles and debates. Post-modernism, the famous late 20th-century movement played a pivotal role in the growing interest and rise in business ethics CITATION New19 \l 1033 (Newey, 2019). Ronald Green in his article maintains that contemporary business ethics is regarded as 'postmodern' based on two rationales. Firstly, any single economic or social theory cannot address the ongoing ethical or organizational issues, therefore business ethics is considered to be post-modernist CITATION Gre18 \l 1033 (Green, 2018). Secondly, the characterization of post-modernists as they resist the over-arching truths and power of reason can also act as a driving force for the incorporation of post-modernism in the business ethics of Outland Denim.
The organizational studies and extensive research delineate that post-modernism has some established some positive traits which have far-reaching consequences. Some of them are mentioned below:
Raising of issues regarding job security
Privacy of the employees
Respect for colleagues belonging to other social and ethnic origins
Recognition of societal pressures
Attempts for consensus building
Invitation for continual revision of the workplace policies
Criticism of empirical reductionism
Encouragement of open communication and democratic leadership
Constant reminders of the problems resulting from capitalist regimes
The business model at Outland Denim has essentially incorporated these values and ethics. Empowerment of vulnerable women who were exploited by human traffickers and bringing major alterations in the unethical practices all over the fashion industry has been the topmost priorities of Outland Denim. Practices of anti-slavery throughout the supply chain and acting responsible for the multi-faceted empowerment of its workforce makes Outland Denim a unique business enterprise. Instead of outsourcing its sewing site, as is the common practice in many established businesses, Outland Denim owns the sewing site itself in an attempt to reject the traditional business practices as opposed to the spirit of post-modernist ethics in the organizational domain.
Incorporation of post-modern ethics based on empathy and moral impulse is evident from the brand’s owner, James Bartle’s talk at the Thomson Reuters Trust Conference which was held in November 2018 which inspired the majority of the audience. Operating out of moral impulse and pity, Bartle vowed to empower all the survivors of human trafficking and initiate changes at individual levels. Deliberation over morality beyond a certain limit of rationality has been the top motive of the business model at Outland Denim and inspires the contemporary business leaders to listen to the voice of their conscience about the distinction between right and wrong. Introduction of business ethics which are pedestaled upon post-modernism in the business model alludes to the founder's unwavering passion for destroying the billion-dollar industry of sex and human trafficking. To achieve the goal of living independent and meaningful lives, the business model of Outland Denim provides its employees with all the necessary tools that help them realize their untapped potential and enable them to succeed in their individual and collective prospects.
Outland Denim and the UN three pillars framework
Safeguarding its employees and creating a shield against the risks posed in the way of provision of basic human rights, Outland Denim has adopted the three-pillar approach as the fundamental requirement and basis for recruiting all its employees ethically. The concept of ‘protect, respect and remedy' also links with the sustainable operations of Outland Denim that can be traced by its involvement in human rights protection CITATION Rug08 \l 1033 (Ruggie, 2008). This three-principle approach is visible in the business model, where the basic human right is protected. The implementation of the three-pillar approach is done at the supplier level whereby the prevalent rate of migrant labor is the highest. Additionally, buying processes are also held comprehensible if there are reported incidents of forced or bonded labor. The buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers all are collectively expected to corroborate these three pillars in their contractual clauses and codes of conduct. The three pillars are described below:
This pillar ensures that the employees, seamstresses or other workers at Outland Denim do not have to pay any charges during or after the processes of recruitment, short-listing, initial induction, further avenues of job placements, or any other undertakings and proceedings of employment. If any worker, employee, or seamstress is intentionally or unintentionally charged with any kind of fee, the policy of the business model requires the accounting department for immediate reimbursement of such fee.
Irrespective of their social or ethnic backgrounds and origins, it is ensured that all the employees at Outland Denim are given written contracts comprising all the meticulous details of the business in their languages at the initial induction. Taking this step effectively at the crucial point of recruitment ensures that all the employees are well aware of their particular rights in the workplace. Furthermore, the responsibilities and workplace expectations are also laid out in the written contract and the employees are familiarized with those terms and conditions in their initial training period which lasts for a week or two, depending upon the learning ability of the employee.
No retention of documents or deposits
The most significant pillar of the UN framework and a pre-requisite for practicing business ethics in the contemporary industries requires that no employee should be asked to submit any document of any nature with the human resource department as a condition of their employment. The documents can pertain to any personal aspect of the employee, for instance, original papers of identification, passport, recommendation letters from previous workplaces, etc. In addition to this, it is strictly forbidden for the management of Outland Denim to withhold any monetary deposits from the employees at any point in their recruitment or service in the business.
Meghan Markle’s social influence on Outland Denim
Following the case of Meghan Markle in Outland Denim's jeans, the company not only received immense popularity but also a global recognition as one of the topmost Denim brands of the world with additional support from businesses adopting sustainable practices. The dynamics of any designer brand change if the Duchess of Sussex is seen in any of its designs and his fact has been established by many reports but for Outland Denim, this effect has proved to be a game-changer. The wide recognition that brands, causes, charitable acts, and beauty trends begin to receive shortly after the Duchess stresses their importance is affectionately known as the "Meghan Effect" or the "Markle Sparkle", CITATION Qua19 \l 1033 (Quade, 2019). Outland Denim has proved to be an outlier in this scenario, as the exposure of its products from the Duchess of Sussex has changed the lives of many of its employees dramatically in addition to bringing a boost in its sales. In her historic visit to Australia, Meghan Markle accentuated a pair of black jeans from Outland Denim and this was an attempt from her side to endorse clothing which is being produced ethically.
Outland Denim is not only committed to work for the prevention of vulnerable women falling below the poverty line and empowering them, but it is also relentlessly dedicated to the production of clothing which is only prepared from organic cotton. Promoting Outland Denim was a win-win situation for both the Duchess of Sussex and the brand as she is highly interested in the advancement and propagation of civil rights and liberties for the women who face discrimination and exploitative behavior worldwide.
The social influence of Meghan Markle was so immense that there was a 3000% reported increase in the virtual traffic encountered by Outland Denim's website and the sales abruptly increased by a massive figure of approximately 640% after the Duchess was first seen in the jeans. These massive numbers enabled the brand management to hire 47 new seamstresses in Cambodia and currently the total number of the brand's workforce is 130 and in the recently hired lot, two men were timely rescued from the evils of human trafficking.
The founder of Outland Denim considers this instance as a milestone for his business and is eternally grateful for the timely attention that the Duchess has managed to garner from philanthropists and charity workers across the world. Bartle stipulated in a press talk that Meghan Markle’s act proved to be life-changing for many of my employees who previously suffered in every aspect of their lives but are now comfortable as their employment is acting as a defense mechanism for their suffering.
Outland’s ability to have real, lasting social impacts
At Outland Denim, the well-being and betterment of the employees are the focus of collective efforts. The brand is well aware of the importance and significance of the role played by the employees and seamstresses and frequently establishes that without the primary assistance from the employees, the brand would not survive one day.
The seamstresses at Outland Denim are provided with diverse opportunities to advance their career trajectories, relocate, acquire additional skills and rebuild their lives. This has been accomplished by many women since the establishment of the business as there are reports of several employees getting engaged in this dignified work environment and communities have been taking inspiration by such transformative stories.
In sheer contrast to prevalent business practices and traditional facilities and market places, the seamstresses at Outland Denim are effectively trained in every tiny detail in the jean-making process. The training period can last for two years, in which the employee is given first-hand knowledge of up-skilling and cross-training. After successful initial training, the employee seeks training in the areas of cutting and sewing. The employee is not charged during any phase of this process and all the charges are met by the revenue from the sales of the brand's products.
Only a living wage can ensure that the workers earn and possess enough disposable income so that they can meet their necessary expenditures such as basic amenities, food, healthcare, education for children, healthcare facility and other miscellaneous items CITATION Mai19 \l 1033 (Mair, 2019). Living wage helps an individual to attain a relatively decent standard of living and Outland Denim makes this possible for all of its employees. The seamstresses and employees at Outland Denim send their children to educational facilities, plan for the foreseeable future, and also can provide for their nuclear and extended families which is a great milestone for many of them.
Programs associated with personal growth and enrichment and education are also a part of the business model of Outland Denim for its employees. Women's and infant's health, awareness about human trafficking, computing, and digital skills, budgeting, self-defense, and proficiency of the English language are some of the programs currently being offered to the employees which is a great initiative.
All these constructive actions will bring real and lasting social impacts and will maintain the position of Outland Denim as one of the most sustainable and ethically responsible businesses in the clothing industry.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Asmussen, C. G. (2019). Orchestrating corporate social responsibility in the multinational enterprise. Strategic Management Journal, 894-916.
Creighton, B. (1996). ILO Convention No 138 and Australian Law and Practice Relating to Child Labour. Australian Journal of Human Rights, 293-312.
Delaney, L. (2019, July 30). Bringing Business to Life: Outland Denim. Retrieved from ECO-AGE: https://eco-age.com/news/bringing-business-life-outland-denim
Green, R. M. (2018). Religions and the Ethics of International Business. Explorations In Global Ethics, 237-252.
Mair, S. D. (2019). Higher Wages for Sustainable Development? Employment and Carbon Effects of Paying a Living Wage in Global Apparel Supply Chains. Ecological economics, 11-23.
Newey, L. R. (2019). Well-being as a staged social responsibility process for business and society. Social Responsibility Journal, 75-89.
Nielsen, H. K. (1994). The concept of discrimination in ILO Convention No. 111. International & Comparative Law Quarterly, 827-856.
Quade, A. (2019). Don't you know who I am? Professional Beauty, 22.
Ruggie, J. (2008). Protect, respect and remedy: A framework for business and human rights. Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, 189-212.
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