Australian fashion brands are becoming more transparent about how they make their clothes, but there is still much more to be done on workersâ€™ rights, living wage and environmental impact.
Thatâ€™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 yearâ€™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 Aâ€“ 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: â€œItâ€™s not that they are actively exploiting people in their supply chain, they just wonâ€™t tell us, and they wonâ€™t give public information that we can assess separately, which is still very, very disappointing.â€
For the last six years, the not-for-profit organisation has been auditing many of Australiaâ€™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. â€œThe median grading of the companies was a D, so youâ€™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.â€
Similarly those paying a living wage were few and far between: â€œEven 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 thatâ€™s a huge distance you have to go.â€
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 worldâ€™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 industryâ€™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 wasnâ€™t surprised by the results. She was particularly disappointed to see that results on workersâ€™ empowerment and rights was still low. â€œProgress on wages and worker empowerment is something that, while itâ€™s the most complex, needs the most attention.â€
However, she said it was important not to conflate a grading with any particular fashion brand taking action. â€œItâ€™s really about what they are willing to share and they are talking about â€¦ The market is expecting that we talk about it now, whereas previously the market didnâ€™t. But it doesnâ€™t mean that we werenâ€™t doing the right thing back then, we just werenâ€™t talking about it.â€
She added: â€œWe 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.â€
For the top-rated brands, the report is good news. James Bartle, the founder of Outland Denim â€“ one of the Duchess of Cambridgeâ€™s favoured denim brands â€“ said he believed the fashion industry could â€œfind the solutions to a range of global social and environmental issuesâ€.
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 â€œpersonally kind of harrowingâ€ when the company received a low ranking in 2016. â€œI knew that we worked with good factories, I knew that we werenâ€™t using children. We were accused of all sorts of things.â€
Since then Gorman has improved the transparency of the brand, published factory and suppliersâ€™ details and communicated more with watchdogs. This year the brand received a B grading.
Courtesy: The Guardian
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