Here’s a deeper dive into Cotopaxi’s genuine and laudable efforts to fight extreme poverty.
The current Venezuelan refugee crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the past 50 years and is larger in scale than that of Syria. Those lucky enough to find their way to neighboring countries like Colombia and Ecuador still face joblessness, hunger and social welfare systems already stressed to their breaking point. In 2021, we partnered with Mercy Corps to help refugees like Jose and Ana (names redacted for security) regain stability so they can begin to rebuild their lives.
Jose and his wife, Ana, withstood the crisis in Venezuela for as long as they could, but when their situation grew so desperate that they were drinking glasses of water for dinner, they made the painful decision to leave their home and seek survival in Colombia. More than 1.8 million
Venezuelans are living in Colombia after fleeing economic, governmental, and social collapse that has plunged the majority of the population into poverty, joblessness and hunger. Many, like Jose and Ana, are funneling into communities that already struggled with poverty and lack of opportunity, and where resources are at a breaking point. Jose and Ana now live with their five children in a small room at the back of another house along a busy street in Riohacha. They earn money selling small goods and mobile phone minutes on the street where they live, but the income is not enough and Jose worries about his children’s future. Mercy Corps is distributing emergency cash to help vulnerable Venezuelans in Colombia meet their urgent needs, including food, medicine and shelter. Ana was pregnant with their now three-month-old daughter when the family received their cash disbursement from Mercy Corps, and the money allowed her to get medical care for the birth. They say they would have had no way to go to the hospital without the assistance. The family also purchased essential household items for their shelter.
Preserving the value across our value chain
That means doing right by the people who make, sell, use and benefit from our products.
Beyond meeting minimum compliance, Cotopaxi is committed to addressing problems in the supply chain when they arise and has made commitments to protecting human rights at all levels of our supply chain through alignment with the UN Global Compact and UN Principles of Responsible Business. In addition to conducting annual auditing and anonymous supplier surveys, in 2021 we adopted the Ethical Trading Initiative’s Guide to Better Buying, provided direct grants to all workers in cut-and-sew factories to increase their well-being, and maintained and ensured adoption of our standard Code of Conduct. This year, after completing annual social and environmental auditing, Cotopaxi added one supplier to its Tier 1. We look forward to expanding our business by partnering with leading factories around the world.
While Cotopaxi maintains a rigorous stance against abuses in supply chains — namely, forced labor, slavery, child labor, harassment and lack of right to collective bargaining — the insidious nature of human rights abuses across apparel supply chains makes them hard to detect and impossible for us to completely prevent. Cotopaxi cannot tackle these issues alone, which is why our company promoted California’s Garment Workers Protection Act, the first legislation in America to specifically protect garment workers in supply chains. We need international and local policy makers to hold nation states accountable for protecting human rights, including the many millions of vulnerable workers in the garment sector. Cotopaxi will continue to lend support for all those fighting for dignity for workers.
Creating a stream of giving
In 2021, with the support of our heroic partner organizations, Cotopaxi was able to reach more than 1 million people through targeted, traceable grants. We try to go beyond merely signing checks and, instead, establish multi-year grant agreements with long term goals. This allows our partners to make the programmatic investments needed to combat the levers of extreme poverty.
Last year, thousands of customers also donated through the Cotopaxi Foundation to support our vetted partners and programs. We want impact and optimism to be the first products people invest in when they support our brand.
With the unexpected rise of the Omicron variant, we donated 202,000 reusable masks made from remnant fabric scraps to homeless shelters. It is important for us to explore social innovation in every possible dimension — whether it’s through collabs, repairs programs or factory engagements.
In 2021, we also welcomed three new impact partners to reflect the role marginalization plays on poverty: the Mona Foundation, Range of Motion Project and Chain Collaborative. The Mona Foundation is a leading organization focused on providing education to girls in South America. ROMP and Chain Collaborative aim to assist people with disabilities and indigenous communities in Ecuador.
Since 2014, we have helped our impact partners reach an estimated 3 million people in extreme poverty through traceable and valid means.
We also know that the fashion and apparel industries are some of the biggest contributors to these injustices. This is just not OK. To take steps at Cotopaxi, we’ve worked to implement not just audits but meaningful human rights due diligence. We also provide numerous, targeted grants directly to our suppliers and workers. Since the beginning of COVID, we estimate that we have been able to assist more than 60,000 workers and families working in vulnerable conditions in supply chains.
Beyond the internal scope of our DEI, our grants and mission will continue to consider marginalization as one of the leading drivers of extreme poverty.
Poverty will always go hand in hand with social justice [inequality], and we select all of our grants on the basis of their ability to tackle not just financial issues but the systemic issues at play.
Once again, we at IBT’s Social Capital thank Davis and Cotopaxi for their heroic efforts. We urge you all to join the movement to make the world a better place through business.
(Davis Smith is the CEO and founder of Cotopaxi.)