A few days ago, Baptist World Aid Australia released The 2017 Ethical Fashion Report: The Truth Behind the Barcode. The fourth in a series of industry reports, the latest edition has been released a week prior to the 2013 Savar building or Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh which led to the deaths of 1,134 garment workers.1
The report reviewed and rated 106 companies, representing 330 brands, in terms of their labor rights management systems. The entire goal of the report is to investigate the efforts of fashion companies to ensure the rights of their workers and improve their conditions.
There were four areas in which each company was rated – company policies, knowing the suppliers, auditing and supplier relationships and worker empowerment. All of these elements are seen as vital in ensuring the safety and welfare of workers in the manufacturing apparel and textiles industry.
Below are the highlights of the Baptist World Aid Australia report:
1. Out of 106 companies assessed, only 13 received A grades, the highest rating, while 10 companies got F or the failed mark.
The three companies which got A+ are all Australian brands — organic and fairtrade fashion and footwear company Etiko, organic cotton underwear manufacturer Mighty Good Undies, and sustainable sportswear manufacturer RREPP. Note that getting an A+ is difficult to pull with Baptist World Aid looking at three critical stages in the supply chain: raw materials, inputs production and final manufacturing and using 40 criteria across the four previously mentioned areas.
Among multinational companies, Patagonia and Inditex (Zara) got A marks while Cotton On Group, Pacific Brands and APG & Co. scored A-. New Zealand ethical companies Kowtow and Liminal Apparel also got A marks.
The best grades were in the area of policies, with 13 companies getting A scores. The lowest marks were in the areas of living wages and worker empowerment. According to the report, the median grade for the worker empowerment section is a D+.
The good news is that more than half or 59 percent of the companies who were assessed in the 2016 report improved their marks in this year’s report.
2. There is a 10 percent increase in the number of companies that provide full supplier lists.
In a bid to ensure transparency in the production cycle, 26 percent of the 106 companies published copies of their supplier lists, a jump from only 16 percent in 2016. While the number in itself represents only a quarter of the total, it is a considered as a significant improvement and makes it easy for the media and other interest groups to verify a company’s claim.
3. There has been tremendous improvement in terms of supplier knowledge.
Baptist World Aid Australia noted that traceability of suppliers has improved throughout the years. In 2013, the charity noted that less than half or 49 percent of companies could trace their second-tier suppliers, referring to fabric suppliers. In the 2017 report, this percentage has increased to 81 percent. At the same time, the number of companies who can trace their third-tier suppliers or raw materials suppliers has increased from 17 percent to 45 percent.
This is deemed significant in order for brands to ensure that workers across the supply chain are treated properly.
4. Companies are investing in supplier relationships.
An encouraging finding of the 2017 report is the fact that 67 percent of the assessed companies are now actively investing in the training of their suppliers, buyers and factory managers on labor rights. Complementary to this is the finding that 77 percent of companies are working towards improving leverage and relationships with suppliers.
5. Companies are investing in ensuring fairer wages to workers.
From just 11 percent in 2013, the percentage of companies that ensures fair wages to workers has now ballooned to 42 percent. This is a commendable increase and goes a long way towards improving the lives of factory workers across the supply chain.
Commendable brands that ensure ethical living wage payments include Liminal Apparel, Etiko, Mighty Good Undies, Freeset, Nudie, RREPP and Kowtow.
6. The number of companies encouraging the presence of trade unions and negotiations of collective bargaining agreements in their factories has doubled – but still needs improvement.
According to the Baptist World Aid Australia, unionization and collective bargaining are the best ways to protect the rights of workers. In their report, there has been an increase in the number of assessed companies which can confidently claim that that at least half of their suppliers have these in place. However, the proportion of those that have unions and collective bargaining agreements in place is still low, with only one out of five facilities, and needs to be improved.
In the course of their research, Baptist World Aid Australia reported several companies which refused to engage during their data collection. However, the charity provided marks that were based on publicly available information and offered these companies with chances to engage in the future.
Baptist World Aid Australia’s 2017 report comes with an accompanying 2017 Ethical Fashion Guide, providing customers with the power to further improve the gains in uplifting workers lives by leveraging on their purchasing power. It has been noted that improvements in supplier traceability and fairer wages are directly correlated with a customer’s conscious decision to purchase only from companies that uphold workers’ rights.
The 2017 Ethical Fashion Report and its accompanying 2017 Ethical Fashion Guide are available for download here.
We strongly encourage that you take the time to study the report and use your purchasing power accordingly. After all, as the saying goes, little ripples can make big waves.
What do you think about the findings of this report? We’d love to know. Leave a comment below and let’s discuss it!
- Baptist World Aid Australia. 2017. 2017 Ethical Fashion Report. Baptist World Aid. Available at: https://baptistworldaid.org.au/resources/2017-ethical-fashion-report/. ↩