Veja publishes new sustainability information after PTEF report
Veja, a sneaker brand often associated with sustainability, was left without points in the recent sustainability assessment by Pro Ethical Trade Finland. After thorough dialogue, Veja added new data on the company’s website. After review, Veja’s total score is now 11 points.
In early 2021, Pro Ethical Trade Finland (PETF) published a report on corporate sustainability work and transparency of popular sneaker brands. The brands were assessed on environmental, climate and human rights criteria. Many were surprised of Veja’s score and a lively discussion on social media about the evaluation criteria, Veja’s reporting and measuring responsibility ensued.
Since the publication of the report, PTEF has had dialogue with Veja. Veja has added new information to its website, based on which the company’s assessment has been updated. Veja’s score rises to 11 points.
Veja now discloses precise information e.g. on the company’s carbon footprint, type of energy used and the share and type of raw materials used.
Veja discloses information on its factories in general, but does not publish the factory information according to the Transparency Pledge (e.g. factory name, address), as required in the criteria to qualify for a point. However, the company did publish a list of its material suppliers, which results in an additional point.
Veja updated information on 13 questions of the total of 18 questions in the assessment criteria. Based on the new data, Veja’s total rating is 11 points. The score is the highest of all brands assessed and places it in the category C (on a scale A-E). The total points table can be found here.
The methodology of the study
The Rank a Brand methodology highlights the vagueness of companies’ sustainability communication. It evaluates sustainability through concrete numbers and is based on reports of actions – visions, plans and promises are not taken into account.
The assessments by PETF are based on publicly available information. Answers to questions are searched on the companies’ websites and sustainability reports and are scored according to the criteria.
Completed score tables are then sent to the companies for review. Some companies acknowledge receipt of the review, others ask for more information and some do not respond. It is common for companies to add information to their website during dialogue with researchers.
In the case of Veja, PETF’s emails to the customer service address did not reach the appropriate receiver, and the important dialogue did not take place before the report was published. Veja reacted to the report when a Finnish sales agent contacted it.
The results of the evaluation were then reviewed in video calls and emails. Experts from Veja and PETF continued the dialogue, and data was collected by Veja and added to the website.
In the future, PETF will pay particular attention to tracing the appropriate contact person for reviewing the result before publishing reports.
Reporting tells about actions
According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies must have procedures in place to know and demonstrate that it respects human rights. In practice, this means monitoring corporate responsibility work and reporting on it: measuring, publishing data and communicating about it to stakeholders.
PETF’s reports have occasionally received critique suggesting they merely evaluate corporate communication. Reporting, however, is practically the only way to evaluate the work done by a company from the outside.
Reporting is also part of corporate communication. Through it, a company can demonstrate transparency and accountability, especially to individuals and groups who may be adversely affected by its actions, but also to other relevant stakeholders.
Precision is important for the overall picture. It is important to specify what is the amount of more sustainable raw materials out of all the raw materials, or whether the factories listed on the website cover all suppliers or part of them. Accurately reported information increases stakeholder confidence in the company’s sustainability efforts.
Who defines corporate responsibility?
The Rank a Brand criteria is detailed, precise and ambitious. To get points the company must often demonstrate both transparency and progress.
For example, in order to get points on climate issues, the company must both calculate the carbon footprint of its own operations and succeed in reducing it. A point for living wages is awarded not for a policy commitment, but only if the company discloses which calculation model the amount of wages is based on and how its factories perform in paying living wages.
Sustainability reporting is an advanced field, and there are established standards (e.g. GRI) that include many of the same questions as the Rand a Brand criteria.
For example, the OECD has developed comprehensive guidelines for companies, and the EU requires large companies to provide sustainability reports. This directive is currently being updated and it has been suggested by both civil society organizations and researchers that it should include concrete minimum requirements for reporting – at present they may differ. In addition, the binding EU corporate responsibility law in the pipeline will also likely affect what information should be publicly available, if approved.
Thus, companies themselves cannot determine how to communicate on their sustainability work. The information must be transparent, easily accessible and comparable. A responsible company also wants to hear recommendations of stakeholders, have an open discussion and act upon it. Veja can be commended for this.
Due to messages from consumers and an in-depth dialogue with PETF, Veja added information on its website. It is an indication that a rigorous assessment using detailed criteria is a good way to create awareness on corporate sustainability, highlight gaps in companies’ disclosure, and drive companies to reach for a higher standard. Voices of active consumers are listened to carefully.
Thank you to all those who shared our messages. Veja’s increased transparency show that the voices of civil society matter.