I was just rereading Uni magazine, and in the Kris Holm interview it says that KH products are ethically sourced. Does anyone know if this is only in regard to the environment, or whether the chain of labour for every material and component is also traced to make sure there’s no sweatshop(/unfairly paid/child) labour at any stage?
I emailed Kris Holm through his website about that and he replied to the effect that KH unicycles are constructed under fair labor conditions in Taiwan, this process is monitored, but the leg armor and gloves have more obscure origens through China and it’s unclear what those labor practices are, although it’s unlikely that they would be any better that the rest of the cycling industry, which is to mean poorly. He did say that it was an issue he has with the manufacturers, but since KHU, and unicycling in general, is only a small niche in the cycling genre, they operate within their means to influence positive change.
Thanks for the info. It does seem to be impossible to get fairtrade sports clothes other than those baggy yoga things anywhere, and I suppose it’s too specialist a product to do in partnership with a clothing company instead of a cycling one… Hmm.
Good to know about the unicycles, if I can afford to I’ll definitely choose KH parts over other ones because of that. I’d be interested to know about the actual details and monitoring process though since it isn’t done under any specific standard, like whether it’s a pro-union factory etc, or just a minimum wage guarantee or whatever. I wonder why there isn’t anything on the website.
You will choose KH above other unicycles just because he said there was no unfair labour involved? Just because Egon Becker (Qu-Ax) and Benjamin Guiraid (Koxx) and Roger Davies (Nimbus) havn’t been invited for a UNI interview doesn’t mean that these brands support unfair labour, I know Qu-Ax doesn’t support unfair labour, and I personally know Roger Davies and know he would do no such thing with his full awareness, I don’t know Benjamin (Yoggi) very well but I think the same can be said for Koxx products. Kris Holm unicycles arn’t more expensive because they pay more attention to fair labour, Kris Holm unicycles are more expensive because they have a very fine aluminium frame (and probably a bigger profit margin). Qu-Ax prices are low because Egon Becker doesn’t have a very big profit margin but tries to help the unicycle community by providing good unicycles for a good price. Not because these unicycles are made by 11yr old children who get a dried crust of bread every 2 days and have to beg for water. I think it would be interesting to get more information considering fair/unfair labour about all the unicycle brands, I will contact Egon and Roger about Qu-Ax and Nimbus, it will be interesting to know.
P.S. My post sounds disadvantegous about Kris Holm, I didn’t mean it like that, all I’m trying to say is that just because Kris said he doesn’t support unfair labour doesn’t mean other companies dont.
Sadly the default is not to actively seek out ethical suppliers, in the cycling industry or any other. Usually, in a capitalist society, the aims of a business are to produce desirable products at a competitive price. There isn’t enough consumer pressure at the moment to push all, or even most companies, towards fair labour practices. So when somebody goes out of their way to mention that they are concerned with issues of sourcing and production then I’m curious to know more and keen to support them over competitors who are perhaps still operating in default mode. It isn’t so much a matter of “supporting unfair labour” with “full awareness,” I’m not saying everyone who isn’t Kris Holm has got a personal dungeon full of child-slaves, they’re just doing business as normal. But at some stage, not very close to the retailer, that probably does involve some unpleasant conditions. Just like almost every other industry. Hopefully that will change in the future, if it does then it will be because of people involved in production such as Kris, but more because of consumer choices. So yes, I think it’s very important to “choose KH above other unicycles just because he said there was no unfair labour involved.” Although obviously it isn’t a case of just what he’s said, I would like more information, and if other unicycle companies turned out to be doing the same, then I’d like to know about that too.
And yes, I know the price difference is a matter of quality, didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Some cheap low-quality ethically produced unicycles would be nice too!
I completly agree with Beth. I also think that Kris Holm doesnt have such a big profit margin then other brands because Kris Holm dont spend his living money only from selling unicycles. Yoggi, Egon and others make all his living money from unicycling so they need the money much more (as you can see in the koxx prices).
I think that for Kris it is mostly important to make good unicycles because at the time Kris starts riding there wasnt good unicycles (maybe I am wrong but this is my personal appreciation).
Absolutely. Great idea.
Thanks for bringing this up! I have been getting more aware of Fairtrade things for a while, and when I saw the film China Blue, about sweatshop working in jeans factories in China, my first thought was “I wonder what conditions unicycle parts are made under”… and couldn’t help feeling pessimistic (as Beth says - in globalised export sadly exploitation is the ‘default’ business as usual; that’s why it’s cheaper to make things in east Asia ). But I never got around to making any queries.
Companies which make the effort (innevitably impacting their profits) to ensure decent working conditions throughout the supply of their products usually make sure you know about it. Hence things like the Fairtrade mark. Though as this mostly used with food products, and now some clothing, I don’t know how appropriate it’s model is for manufacturing.
I’ll be interested to hear what information there is from the main suppliers.
One random thing, I’ve seen something written by Brant from On One Bikes about conditions in bike factories in Taiwan. He was making the point that unlike clothing manufacture etc. welding, machining stuff etc. is still quite a skilled job, which means that even in industrial centres like Taiwan, they have to look after the people who do the welding.
The other thing he pointed out which is possibly dubious, but probably true, is that in large bike factories in Taiwan, they have things like very good fume extraction and stuff, which small UK and US welding shops have a tendency to skimp on.
It’d be interesting to see what Roger has to say about this too. I’d be surprised if it’s that different from KH in terms of the unicycle parts, as I think they work together on a lot of stuff like the hubs + cranks.
That’s true. I have a good idea of how KH products are manufactured in Taiwan. Roger Davies has also inspected several of the factories that manufacture components for UDC (Nimbus) and KH products, and we know several of the workers personally. As it happens, I hung out today (in Taiwan) and helped load a van with the person who hand builds each KH wheel, and helps assemble the unis.
Ethical sourcing in mainland China is more difficult, especially for small companies with little influence over large manufacturing facilities.
However KHU does have some influence. For example, the day before yesterday I met with the manufacturer of Percussion Armor, about factory conditions. Without going into details, the manufacturer agreed to sign a legal statement declaring that no child labour would be used in the production of KH armor, with the agreement to be written by KHU’s lawyer. Obviously that’s not the same as regular factory inspections and it would be naive to depend on it. However it’s an important first step towards ensuring ethical working conditions for KH business in China.
In general, ethical sourcing for bike manufacture in China is behind some other areas of the outdoor industry, but it is changing.
I also met with WTB (tires) about conditions at their factory in China. They are currently building a new factory that has improved working conditions, an efficient heating/cooling system to reduce CO2 emissions, and a new process to make the extremely wasteful tire production process more efficient.
In sum, it is not easy, and it makes profit margins a lot less and products more expensive. But I am really committed to this over the long term, not for business/marketing reasons but because I believe in it. Unicycle.com is really good about this as well, which is one of the reasons I like doing business with them.
Congratulations-- I’d call that a win. These things happen one brick at a time.
One more reason to want a KH! Yes it would be nice to hear if the other major uni manufacturers are trying to uphold similar standards. Kudos for Kris and the UDC team for doing this, and making it possible for us to have products where we know at least some of the manufacturing background.
I’ve recently been quite frustrated by the lack of information on factory conditions for all kinds of products I want to buy; I’d happily pay a premium to get more ethically sourced stuff if I had the information available.
This has certainly raised by interest level in buying KH kit, so maybe one day…