Fashion Revolution Week: Spotlight turns to supplier transparency as reports reveal slow progress

At the start of a week dedicated to generating awareness over sustainability issues in the fashion sector, a flurry of new reports have demanded greater transparency to help improve working conditions and wages in the clothing supply chain.

Fashion Revolution Week launched today (24 April) with new research which revealing that, while progress is generally being made, many global fashion brands still don’t disclose enough information about their impact on the lives of workers in their supply chain.

Ranking the information supplied by 100 global firms with revenues over $1,2bn on their progress in areas such as governance, traceability, supplier assessment, and living wages, the average transparency score in the latest Fashion Transparency Index 2017 was 49 out of 250.

Although none of the companies on the list scored above 50%, the research does show that 31 brands – including ASOS, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and GAP – are now publishing supplier lists, an increase on last year when only five of 40 companies surveyed responded positively.

Adidas and Reebok were recognised as the highest scoring brands in the Index, followed closely behind by M&S and H&M. At the other end of the spectrum, Dior, Heilan Home and s.Oliver scored 0 due to a complete absence of disclosure.

Fashion Revolution co-founder Carry Somers said: “People have the right to know that their money is not supporting exploitation, human rights abuses and environmental destruction. There is no way to hold companies and governments to account if we can’t see what is truly happening behind the scenes. This is why transparency is so essential.”

Positive direction

None of the brands listed on the Index have published details of raw material suppliers. Few brands disclose efforts on collective bargaining and consumption of resources, while only four brands – H&M, M&S, New Look and Puma – are reporting on progress towards paying living wages to workers in the supply chain.

Fashion Revolution insists this sends a strong signal to brands to urgently look at their own business models and purchasing practices. The report provides a list of recommendations for brands and retailers, such as accessible disclosure of supplier lists and improved CSR communications. Meanwhile, a #whomademyclothes Twitter hashtag will call for brands to provide specific supplier information on request.

“Through publishing this research, we hope brands will be pushed in a more positive direction towards a fundamental shift in the way the system works, beginning with being more transparent,” Somers added.

Dr Mark Anner, director of the centre for global workers’ rights at Pennsylvania State University, echoed this message. “The time has come for brands and retailers to make their entire supply chains transparent,” Anner said. “The time has also come to establish sourcing practices that are conducive to the human development and empowerment of the workers who work so hard every day to make the clothes we wear.”

Fairtrade cotton

Today (24 April) also marks the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse which killed 1,138 people and ignited the call to address the issues in the fashion supply chain.

To coincide with the anniversary, a separate report from the Fairtrade Foundation has found that apparel brands that rely on cotton have a real opportunity to make decisions that help create a more resilient business and increase visibility of their cotton sourcing. The study, which measured the environmental and social impacts on rural households in India, found that the combined social and environmental costs of Fairtrade cotton farming are five times lower than that of conventional cotton farming.

Fairtrade Foundation Cotton Manager Subindu Garkhel said: “Cotton is an integral part of our lives, from the sheets on our beds to the identity we project through the clothes we wear. Not only that, but cotton also provides livelihoods for millions across the globe.

“But there is a strong cost for people and planet with cultivating the cotton that goes into our clothes, and our study shows that is markedly higher for conventional cotton farming.

The research showed that most significant social advantage for Fairtrade farmers was having more income. It revealed that Fairtrade cotton farmers tend to have lower social costs, and higher social benefits such as fairer wages and investment in local schools.

Fairtrade cotton performed significantly better than conventional for all environmental KPIs cotton, in areas such as land use, water pollutants, water use, GHG emissions and soil pollutants.

“This research illustrates how Fairtrade empowers farmers to decide their own future, is better for their communities and has a substantially lower footprint than conventional cotton,” Garkhel said 

Sustainability tracker

And in related fashion sustainability news, an independently verified tool which tracks the sustainability efforts of fashion brands has just been launched for the second year in a row. The MODE Tracker, created by not-for-profit MADE-BY, enables fashion brands and retailers to develop a roadmap to engage on a broad range of sustainability issues, demonstrate their improvements and communicate these actions publicly.

Major clothing firms G-Star, Haikure, Just Brands, Ted Baker, Vivobarefoot and WE Fashion have all committed to use the tracker.

MADE-BY chief executive Sabine Ritter said: “We commend our MODE Tracker brands for leading the way in transparent and verified communication on their sustainability efforts and achievements. I hope our MODE Tracker tool and these latest brand results will encourage more brands and retailers in the industry to adopt such an open and honest dialogue on their sustainability progress.”

George Ogleby

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