A career in ethical retailing can be demanding but rewarding

Ethical trading is a vital part of retailers’ CSR responsibilities. But few staff have experience in this area, so how do you get into it and what does the job involve?

For both Frances Goodwin, ethical trading manager of corporate purchasing at Tesco, and Indi Chauhan, ethical manager at George, their original interest was sparked after studying textiles and knitwear technology at DeMontfort University.

Goodwin’s first hands-on experience of change came when she left the UK in 1991 to go and work in Africa as a dyeing and finishing director in a textile factory. Concerned at the 12-hour shifts that staff were routinely doing most days, she put a business case together to employ and train more local people. The business moved to three eight-hour shifts over a five-day week while the workers received the same wages. As a result, the company received the maximum annual bonus for quality and efficiency for the following three years.

On her return to the UK, Goodwin was hired by Tesco and received her first training in ethical auditing. Today her role is ensuring the ethical sourcing of all goods not for resale used by the business.

She admits there are challenges working in such a sector. “It’s easy to find issues, but it’s about how you approach and explain to the factory how they can change and why it’s unacceptable,” she says. “You have to be quite strong and need to be persistent, but it becomes a passion.”

Kid gloves can be required, and a consideration of cultural, economic and political issues is needed. “You need to gauge your language and tone and how they will react and give them some guidance and guidelines,” Goodwin adds.

But she says the role is a rewarding one. “It’s about going back and seeing factories that have improved and factory owners who are now really proud of their factories - that makes it all worthwhile,” she says.

Chauhan works with nearly 600 factories across the world auditing George’s supply chain. “It’s my job to try to understand root causes of issues, work with suppliers to put them right and manage risk so that we can safeguard our products,” she says. Her textiles background also led her into working with factories and suppliers before moving to the Burton Group and then George. In 2004 she was charged with developing a process for ethical management at the business.

She loves the diversity of the role. “One day you could be sitting behind a desk, the next you’re in-country, on the ground, talking to workers on real-life issues. I get to meet lots of different people too, from factory workers, NGOs and charities, to my international counterparts at Walmart. It’s also very rewarding when you’re able to change people’s lives as a result of working closely with a factory to put things right,” she says. 

However, like Goodwin, she points out that expectations have to be managed carefully. She says: “When it comes to ethical compliance, you can’t always sort things out overnight. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to address issues, so it’s important to be engaged with the trading teams to look at back-up strategies for products that require a quick turnaround.”

For more information visit www.ethicaltrade.org