On this blog, we talk a lot about the importance of transparency in companies and their supply chains. It is a really important factor in the way we evaluate a company about whether or not it is actively working to be ethical in all aspects of its production. Honestly, it could be the single most important thing. So, what does transparency mean in companies and how does it intersect our quest for ethical buying, anyways?

The definition of transparency is “easy to perceive or detect” or “allowing light to pass through so objects can be easily seen.” Both of these definitions connect very clearly to the use of the term transparency in companies and supply chain ethics. First of all, if we are evaluating companies for their ethics, specifically labor right ethics, we have to be able to see what’s going on behind the storefront. Is the way they run their company from the bottom up easy to see? Do they let the public openly know how they run things? And if so, are they doing so completely openly so that unethical pieces are easy to detect?

Whether or not a company is transparent, as a result, shows a lot about their commitment to being ethical. For example, many companies simply claim they don’t know what goes on deeper in their supply chain. Not only are they not claiming responsibility, but also they aren’t being transparent with themselves or the public.

But why does that matter?

It matters because if a company is ashamed to show the public about its infrastructure, it is highly likely to mean that it looks uglier than we would like it to, or they aren’t committed to making it more ethical if it isn’t great at the moment. This is a matter of responsibility for our actions; a matter of believing that as human beings, we have the responsibility to honor our fellow humans and their dignity. A lack of transparency shows that companies aren’t committed to protecting the humanity and dignity of every soul involved in creating the products they profit from.

Transparency is the door to improvement because it creates vulnerability. All of a sudden, a company is risking the whole world criticizing them for their labor ethics, company culture, and dedication to the details of human rights throughout their supply chain. That’s true vulnerability, and it’s scary. But, if companies are willing to get vulnerable, it is the breeding grounds for improvement.

In this place of vulnerable transparency, the company can be held accountable by the public and even by law. Companies who show what’s going on deep in their systems should be applauded, because whether it’s good or bad, it means they aren’t afraid of their mistakes that could lead them to triumph through improvements.

To sum up the question about why we value transparency so much in evaluating companies, think about this: at the end of the day, we must hold our relationships with companies and purchasing as we hold our relationships with friends and family. Demanding transparency from companies requires them to get raw and vulnerable with the public. But as we know is true with humans, we have to be willing to get real (even if it’s ugly) with ourselves and others to become better people. So, ultimately, the people that make up those companies and produce their products are friends and families as well. If we demand this of companies, the very friends and families of which they consist will live better, more just lives as a result of their employer’s transparency.

Written by: Madeleine Williams