Unfortunately many company gradings on human rights and welfare remain disappointing

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2019-04-16 13:45:00 – Australia

Australian fashion brands are becoming more transparent about how they make their clothes, but there is still much more to be done on workers’ rights, living wage and environmental impact.

That’s according to the findings in the latest Ethical Fashion report, published by Baptist World Aid, which surveyed more than 130 companies with 480 brands.

John Hickey, the chief executive of Baptist World Aid Australia, said he was pleased this year’s survey showed that 38% of the companies surveyed had improved their rating . He said this was led by customers calling for greater transparency as well as fashion companies changing their own practices and cultures.

There were a number of standouts with 24 of the 130 achieving an A rating (from A– up to A+). Top ranked fashion brands included Outland Denim, Etiko, Mighty Good Undies, Freeset T-shirts, Icebreaker and Liminal Apparel who all scored A+.

The bad news, said Hickey, was that 34 companies were graded at either a D+ down to an F grade, although he was quick to add: “It’s not that they are actively exploiting people in their supply chain, they just won’t tell us, and they won’t give public information that we can assess separately, which is still very, very disappointing.”

For the last six years, the not-for-profit organisation has been auditing many of Australia’s fashion brands on the traceability, transparency, worker empowerment and living wages of their supply chains, based on provided or publicly available information.

Unfortunately many company gradings on human rights and welfare remained disappointing, said Hickey. “The median grading of the companies was a D, so you’ve got a lot of people working in poor conditions that affect their health and welfare aside from not being paid well enough to support themselves and their families appropriately. So there still needs to be a significant move there.”

Similarly those paying a living wage were few and far between: “Even though close to 50% of the companies are developing policies and expressing an intent, only 5% could actually demonstrate that they are doing this in the latter stages of the production process, so that’s a huge distance you have to go.”

This year, for the first time, fashion companies were also graded on their environmental impact, an important consideration given that the global apparel and footwear industry accounts for an estimated 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, with that number set to rise over coming years.

This was also disappointing, with the average grade of C+. Hickey said there needed to be improvement for those living in areas affected by the industry’s water consumption, the chemicals and pollutants as well as how companies dealt with used and discarded products.

Melinda Tully, from Fashion Revolution, an industry organisation campaigning for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain, said she wasn’t surprised by the results. She was particularly disappointed to see that results on workers’ empowerment and rights was still low. “Progress on wages and worker empowerment is something that, while it’s the most complex, needs the most attention.”

However, she said it was important not to conflate a grading with any particular fashion brand taking action. “It’s really about what they are willing to share and they are talking about … The market is expecting that we talk about it now, whereas previously the market didn’t. But it doesn’t mean that we weren’t doing the right thing back then, we just weren’t talking about it.”

She added: “We also have to be very cognisant of the fact that a single rating can conflate a very complex set of issues, and the nuance in those issues is very hard to translate into a single letter.”

For the top-rated brands, the report is good news. James Bartle, the founder of Outland Denim – one of the Duchess of Cambridge’s favoured denim brands – said he believed the fashion industry could “find the solutions to a range of global social and environmental issues”.

But low grading can have a dramatic impact on an Australian fashion brand. Earlier this year Lisa Gorman of fashion brand Gorman told Guardian Australia that it was “personally kind of harrowing” when the company received a low ranking in 2016. “I knew that we worked with good factories, I knew that we weren’t using children. We were accused of all sorts of things.”

Since then Gorman has improved the transparency of the brand, published factory and suppliers’ details and communicated more with watchdogs. This year the brand received a B grading.

Courtesy: The Guardian

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