Baptist World Aid has just released its third annual Fashion Report and, overall, things aren’t looking great for some of Australia and New Zealand’s biggest retailers. Investigating the transparency of each business’ production chain, their policies and the welfare of their workers, the report assigns each company a grade from A-F. And some pretty major Australian companies like General Pants, Seed Heritage and Boohoo all scored Fs, while New Zealand’s own Karen Walker was middle of the range, with a C rating overall, but scored Ds in the categories of ‘Worker Empowerment’ and ‘Auditing and Supplier Relationships’.
Launched on the eve of the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, The Australian Fashion Report sheds light on what the industry and various different companies are doing to address forced labour, child labour and exploitation. According to the report, progress within the industry has been significant since the report’s launch in 2013. For the 2016 edition, the company has assessed 87 companies overall. Unfortunately, though, many brands from Australia and New Zealand simply didn’t measure up.
Some local companies like Etiko scored A ratings, alongside international giants such as Patagonia and the Adidas Group. But plenty of others fell short. House of Quirky, for example, received a D+ while Ally Fashion was awarded an F. Forever 21 also received a D-rating, along with Best & Less. Overall, the median grade was a somewhat disappointing C+ and only 6 companies were awarded A-range grades, compared with the 9 F-grade companies. The report especially hones in on brands that lack supply chain transparency. “If brands do not disclose, or are unwilling to disclose, what they are doing to ensure that workers are not exploited in their supply chains, then it becomes near impossible for consumers and the public to know if these brands are investing sufficiently to mitigate these risks,”.
It isn’t all bad news though. According to Baptist World Aid, the past 12 months have seen some substantial improvements in reported company performance, with APG & Co, Industrie and David Jones all leaders in this regard. “APG & Co demonstrated that it had substantially traced back to the inputs stage of its supply chain (it knew who its fabric suppliers were), and that it sourced from predominantly unionised factories for its final stage of manufacturing. Industrie demonstrated that it had significant traceability back to its input suppliers”.
With all of that said, though, Baptist World Aid’s annual Fashion Report should also be taken with a grain of salt. It aims to simplify very complex issues with brands’ overall supply chains and is, therefore, not a perfect measure — nor the be all and end all of shopping sustainably. Undeniably though, this initiative has been fantastic in raising awareness about important issues like transparency and inspiring brands to do better. Since its launch, retailers like Target and Kmart have reportedly gone from having little to no knowledge of their supply chains, to taking greater control over these processes. That is certainly something to celebrate and hopefully future years will only see greater improvements for all companies.