Due Diligence: Promotional Products and Corporate Responsibility

Global supply chains enable far too much plausible deniability when it comes to the origin of  most every day products. As individuals, we simply don’t have the time to investigate the story behind every item we buy. Even when we attempt to act as responsible consumers, most brands lack the transparency for individuals to assess ethical considerations such as environmental and labour practices.

While forgivable in the personal context, wholesalers, importers, and corporate buyers can be held to higher standards. It may not be realistic for you to ask a series of pointed questions when buying a mug at your coffee shop, but your due diligence starts to become far more important when you are buying 300 mugs for your law firm’s recruitment swag give-away. With most corporate promotional products being produced offshore, the following questions are a good starting point:

  • How is this made?
  • Where is it made?
  • What are the labour practices where this is made?
  • What are the environmental practices where this is made?
  • Are labour and environmental standards audited by importers or accredited third-parties?
  • How long will this product last?
  • What is the end-of life of this product (garbage, re-purpose, recycle)?
  • Does it come in green (a Skunkworks requirement)?

While asking these questions may label you as a bleeding-heart in some circles, they are risk management basics for most sophisticated organizations. The last thing your business needs is prominence in South-Asian sweatshops or local landfills. For commoditized products, environmental and labour  benchmarking also gives you a means of differentiating between manufacturers.

One company raising the bar for due diligence on promotional products is Vancouver-based promotional product/branding wholesaler Fairware. By asking the right questions, they are slowly forcing their competitors to start asking similar questions.

While “how much does it cost?” will inevitably remain a leading consideration, it should only be one question among many.

Note: This blog post was prompted by a comment by Greg Foweraker of Innate Gear following our previous post on the best in promotional merchandise. Innate does a great job sourcing their manufacturers. They offer a transparent Supplier Code of Conduct on their website and apply industry best practices in auditing their supply chain. Amongst their more popular products is their Doppio Tumbler (pictured inline). At 200ml, Greg describes it as being “a compact, efficient deliverer of strong brew.” It serves cappuccinos and wine equally well. This proves to be a perfect combination for law firms. Plus, it comes in Skunky Green (TM).


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