Global ethical fashion movement Fashion Revolution have released a new report that demands radical transparency at every tier of the supply chain. Out of Sight: A call for transparency from field to fabric was produced in support of the Tamil Nadu Declaration, a pledge to eradicate severe labour exploitation in the textile manufacturing hub of Tamil Nadu, India, but the report highlights research into 62 major retailer supply chains all around the world.
“Supply chains in the global garment and textiles industry are long, complex, fragmented, continuously evolving and notoriously opaque,” says Fashion Revolution, who want this report to provide a call-to-action which holds fashion brands accountable for exploitative and unsafe working conditions at every stage of the manufacturing process.
Some positive progress has been made by major brands to disclose their first tier manufacturers (the final stages of production such as cutting, sewing, assembling and packaging) as shown by Fashion Revolution’s latest Transparency Index. However, when it comes to where fibres are harvested and processed, yarns spun and dyed, or fabrics knitted and woven, there is a stark opacity.
Of the 62 brands investigated, which include ASOS, Topshop, Levi’s, Primark and Uniqlo, the report’s key findings are as follows:
- 46 brands are disclosing all first tier manufacturers
- 23 brands are disclosing some textile processing facilities
- 18 brands are disclosing some textile production sites
- Only one brand is disclosing a full list of all textile production sites (Nudie Jeans)
With only 31% revealing a partial list of where their fabrics are produced, it is clear that brands must take responsibility beyond the finished garment. The report calls for a clear and concise action for brands to take immediately: sign the Tamil Nadu Declaration and Framework of Action. Vitally, they need to make progress on the declaration’s number one goal: to expand supply chain transparency beyond tier 1 cut-and-sew operations by publicly disclosing the details of all textile manufacturing processes and finished product facilities. After which, signees must commit to action towards subsequent goals, including a reformation of sourcing practices, integration of worker-driven approaches to labour rights enforcement, and the support of new policy development.
“Without transparency, we cannot see or protect vulnerable people.”
– Grace Forrest, Walk Free Foundation
Why is transparency so important in fashion? We know that being transparent is not equivalent to being sustainable – H&M were subject to widespread criticism after falsely claiming that ranking highly on the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index was equivalent to being the ‘most transparent brand in the world’, misleading conscious consumers. But mapping and publicly disclosing the supply chain is the first step brands need to take if they’re serious about building a fair and ethical business. On its own, transparency is not enough to fix human rights and environmental exploitation in fashion supply chains, and must be paired with remedial actions. But as Fashion Revolution’s co-founder Carry Somers reminds us: “If we can’t see it, we can’t fix it.” No one wants to make a negative impact with what they buy and wear, but without the full picture, consumers are unable to make informed decisions, and therefore powerful and profitable brands continue to escape blame for labour abuses.
What’s more, there is a business case for transparency – in disclosing their suppliers, brands stand to gain from the operational efficiencies that traceability and transparency can facilitate. Not to mention the reputational benefits – just think about the countless scandals encountered by fast fashion brands that claim to be surprised at the labour exploitation taking place right under their noses. Beyond a basic level of compassion for fellow human beings (if only that was enough for shareholders), many a PR nightmare could be avoided if effective analysis of supply chain risks was undertaken.
One of the clearest ways to illustrate the importance of transparency can be to reflect back on one of fashion’s darkest days, 24th April 2013. The Rana Plaza disaster was a clear lesson in what happens when brands who do not disclose their manufacturers refuse to take responsibility for wrongdoings. Tracking the buyers which Rana Plaza’s garment workers produced for was a long, arduous task led by grieving families who protested the complicity of brands like Mango, Benetton and Primark. Movements like Fashion Revolution were born from the aftermath of this search, ensuring a tragedy of such scale never happens again by demanding compensation for victims, protection of survivors, and accountability to all the people who make our clothes.
Various obstacles stand in the way of truly radical transparency across the fashion industry. Often the brand does not even know the full contents of its own supply chain and has never met its suppliers because of third-party outsourcing and complex logistics structures that span continents. Additionally, there is a lack of coherent regulation across different countries, and insufficient follow-through on many cross-industry commitments.
What is most striking though is the knowledge gap for consumers. The #WhoMadeMyClothes momentum may be ever-growing, but when is the last time we asked #WhoMadeMyFabric? For those unaware of the intricacies of the fashion system, beautiful products are simply sold as seen, and the much less glamorous side of yarn and fibre remains a mystery which very few consumers are intrigued about. It’s time to change that. Stand up for the millions of workers bringing your clothes to life by demanding that your favourite brands sign the Tamil Nadu Declaration, and disclose their suppliers from field to fabric.
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Cover image of a Bangladeshi man drying garments fabrics in the sun at Narayanganj, near Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2017. Photo by Sk Hasan Ali.