Images from a Fairfax Media investigation have surfaced displaying Rip Curl ski jackets being made in North Korea but with a ‘Made in China’ label.
It was businessmen and ‘adventurer’ Nik Halik that sourced Fairfax with these images.
Mr Halik was on a guided tour of North Korea in July 2015 when slipped away from view of his official guide to photograph the Rip Curl products’ ‘Made in China’ labels.
Mr Halik was shocked by this discovery and said that Rip Curl customers deserved to know where their products are being sourced.
This is an appalling deception towards the customer on Rip Curl’s part, as North Korean factory working conditions can only be compared with slavery.
North Korean employees often toil in the factories for long, break-free hours at very little to no pay at all. When workers object to management demands or refuse to work they are often threatened with or sent to prison camps.
The factory these jackets were made in is located in Pyongsong, 30km outside of the capital, Pyongyang.
Rip Curl diverted the blame to one of their suppliers when CFO, Tony Roberts stated that:
‘This was a case of a supplier diverting part of their production order to an unauthorised subcontractor, with the production done from an unauthorised factory, in an unauthorised country, without our knowledge or consent’.
It is unfair however for Rip Curl to push the blame entirely on to their suppliers because the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights require that companies, ‘avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities’.
Tony Roberts also said that Rip Curl was aware of this issue for several months though only after the production was complete and shipped to customers.
It was only when the matter was in the public eye however that Rip Curl made an apology and offered a full refund to all customers that purchased these jackets, adding that any North Korean sourced products Rip Curl had would be destroyed or donated to charity.
It was very negligent of Rip Curl to not announce their awareness of their suppliers sourcing products from North Korea and poses speculation on how long this has been going on.
Certainly Rip Curl’s future credibility remains in jeopardy, as even now when Australians are buying its products, they wonder whether or not these have been manufactured through inhumane labour.
Oxfam’s CEO, Dr Helen Szoke has said that this raises serious concerns over Rip Curl’s standards. Dr Szoke has urged that businessess be more transparent with their customers regarding their supply and sourcing practices, and criticizes Rip Curl for being ignorant.
Rip Curl has shown that they did not have the system in place to prevent their products being supplied from some of the worst countries in terms of workers’ rights — which is clearly a failure in their business model, rather than a ‘screw up’ as Rip Curl called it in their Facebook apology.
If Rip Curl want to appear serious about preventing further such screw ups, then they should start by being more transparent and publishing all of their policies, including purchase and sale order contracts and a list of factories where their products are manufactured.
Rip Curl is among other Australian surf brands such as Quicksilver and Billabong that have been criticized by Oxfam for having ‘weak’ product sourcing standards and conditions.
Oxfam says Australian surfing brands are ‘behind the pack’ when it comes to ethically sourcing their products, and that they need to be more transparent like brands such as Katies, Millers, Autograph, City Chic and Crossroads, which all make public their supply chains.
Surfers and regular customers have also asserted their disgust with the so-called ‘Australian’ Rip Curl. Peter Mommsen wrote: ‘This is why these large corporate brands are falling, they have lost their soul in greed’.
What does the future hold for Rip Curl?
This could of course just be a hiccup in their otherwise successful business. But, it could also prove to be the the start of further investigations and revelations into the poor practices of the company, in turn diminishing their reputation and sales.