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People are our only stakeholders: Reflections on Patagonia’s commitment to the planet

Boldr Patagonia ethical outsourcing

We want to be the ‘Patagonia’ of outsourcing”. David Sudolsky, Boldr’s CEO and Founder has set this as Boldr’s aspirational future state since its inception in 2017. In the decade where fast fashion and garment production was gaining notoriety in terms of poor supply chain and labor practices, Patagonia continued to emerge as the gold standard for ethical production and sustainable business practices.

Inspired by Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing philosophy, Boldr took a page out of Patagonia’s book and in the last three years have modeled some of the tenets of our Impact work in parallel. For instance, Boldr committed 1% of its quarterly revenues for community building initiatives. In 2021, Boldr became the first global Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company to become a B Corp. Boldr integrated impact into its business model through its Theory of Change. All of these shifts dovetail into a larger more ambitious goal of creating a future where outsourcing can become a regenerative economic engine for redistributing wealth and opportunities globally. 

Earlier this year, Yvon Chouinard made a groundbreaking commitment to effectively transfer their ownership of Patagonia, worth around USD 3 billion, to the Patagonia Purpose Trust and a nonprofit organization designed “to preserve the company’s independence” and continue Patagonia’s mission to address climate change while preserving the environment globally. Reflecting on Boldr’s own journey towards becoming the “expectation and not the exception” in ethical and impactful outsourcing, four key lessons stand out from Yvon Chouinard’s recent unparalleled commitment to the planet:

Understand who your “real” stakeholders are

The rise of “Stakeholder Governance” as a model for “identifying, engaging with and understanding stakeholder perspectives on key issues” and integrating these perspectives in decision-making has paved a way for companies to be held accountable for who ultimately benefits or loses from their endeavors. Patagonia’s stakeholder philosophy identifies the planet as the company’s penultimate stakeholder as all the raw materials and inputs that were instrumental to the company’s success, as well as the sport that created the demand for climbing gear, can be traced back to the earth. Therefore, Yvon’s belief is that all the dividends and benefits must accrue to the planet as the main stakeholder and beneficiary.

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From a labor value perspective in the BPO industry, Boldr’s ultimate stakeholders are “people” or the team members whose unique competencies and talent serve as the invaluable inputs that drive the success of the company. As people are the atomic unit of Boldr, we strive to ensure team members have a stake and voice in how the company evolves. Where ecologically conscious companies aim to leave their environment in a better state than when they left it, our commitment to an individual’s holistic growth and personal development keeps us from seeing our team members from a purely utilitarian lens.

Acknowledge your role in negatively impacting your direct stakeholders and identify how to mitigate this

Yvon’s journey as an apparel producing entrepreneur made him come to terms with the reality of Patagonia’s and the industry’s impact on the environment and to the climate. In his commitment statement, Yvon wrote: “As we began to witness the extent of global warming and ecological destruction, and our own contribution to it, Patagonia committed to using our company to change the way business was done.” In short, Patagonia acknowledged the harms it has caused and may have caused the planet if it had not made a decision to change the way it does business. This decision to shift was what catapulted Patagonia into becoming one of the most successful and most socially responsible brands in the world.

David Sudolsky’s inspiration behind turning the outsourcing industry on its head stemmed from his own realization after establishing his first BPO company in the Philippines. He observed that in a traditional outsourcing arrangement, the worker segment is the most marginalized and vulnerable to exploitation while the parent or company often reaps the benefits of bigger profit margins from the global labor arbitrage. Boldr’s commitment to address this pattern in the BPO industry requires a strategic redistribution of resources and opportunities to improve the economic mobility of its team members and uplift families out of poverty. Boldr works in partnership with its clients to reduce barriers to decent work by creating alternative learning pathways to increase the employability of individuals who struggle with accessing traditional formal education. Boldr is striving to demonstrate that talent, when given the right tools and opportunities to thrive, can add value in the BPO industry.

Creating a healthy business and doing the right thing are mutually reinforcing

The business case for doing the right thing while maintaining healthy margins is at the crux of the discourse of how capitalism can be a force for good. The costs associated with adopting ethical supply chain practices, not compromising on the quality of the products, while implementing a living wage floor, investing in the upskilling of workers may be perceived as foregone profits or smaller margins. In most capitalistic spaces, the prevailing notion is that the costs of preserving the planet and people and sustaining profit are mutually exclusive or that companies must choose one over the other. 

Patagonia and many other successful companies have debunked the idea that profit and purpose are mutually exclusive and that choosing the narrow ethical and socially relevant path have actually yielded more in terms of profit for the companies in the long run, effectively offsetting the costs of doing business the right way. Yvon posited in his recent commitment: “if we [Patagonia] could do the right thing while making enough to pay the bills, we could influence customers and other businesses, and maybe change the system along the way”. Wealth accumulation was primarily a means for Patagonia to remain operational in order to continue doing more good and not the end itself. 

In Boldr’s context, making strategic decisions to build the health and longevity of the business contributes to having the financial resilience necessary to preserve as many sources of livelihood as possible especially in the throes of global economic uncertainty. Ultimately, establishing a healthy business that allows the company to do more good in the long run is proof that profit and purpose can be mutually reinforcing when the motivation do not contradict each other (i.e. focusing solely on profit maximization).

Why People are Boldr’s only stakeholders

Boldr’s journey towards setting the industry standard for ethical outsourcing must be seen in how accountable the company is towards its commitment to “help people grow and connect”. While companies like Patagonia have developed metrics to measure their impact on the planet as their primary stakeholder, Boldr is continually refining its material impact on its team members from a growth and fulfillment and holistic perspective. Boldr’s aspirations for “People” in the next three to five years includes materially lifting families out of poverty through the greater economic mobility and freedom acquired by our teams through our mission to help more people grow and connect globally.

Glo Guevarra is the Impact Manager at Boldr. She is currently taking up her postgraduate degree in Labor, Activism, and Development at SOAS University of London.

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