New Zealand’s ethical fashion companies for 2016 revealed: Who passed the test?

  • News
  • April 21, 2016
  • Elly Strang
New Zealand’s ethical fashion companies for 2016 revealed: Who passed the test?

The report was released to coincide with the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

The tragedy brought the often unsafe working conditions of the apparel industry to the forefront of the public consciousness, with many horrified consumers, investors and governments spurred into action.

A Colmar Brunton survey the year following found the majority (90 percent) of New Zealanders want to buy ethically and socially responsible products.

A total of 87 Australian and New Zealand companies were assessed by Baptist World Aid for the 2016 survey, with some actively choosing to participate and some not.

It aims to show what retailers are doing to address forced labour, child labour and exploitation.

Policies, knowing suppliers, auditing, supplier relationships and worker empowerment were the key areas explored when grading companies.

There have been promising improvements in companies' supply chain disclosure since the survey begun in 2013.

That year, Baptist World Aid found only half of the companies it interviewed had complete knowledge of who their suppliers were at the manufacturing stage of production.

“Knowing suppliers is critical to a strong labour rights management system. If companies don’t know or don’t care who their suppliers are, then they cannot ensure that workers are not being exploited,” it says.

In 2016, this number has increased to 70 percent.

As well as this, in 2013, just 41 percent of companies had put in some effort to know input suppliers (like where fabric is produced). This number has also improved, reaching 79 percent in 2016.

Companies have been awarded a grade ranging from A to F, based off their abilities to monitor the risk of exploitation in their supply chains.

Baptist World Aid notes while fair trade companies are niche, they stand out in the market for their strong management of workers’ labour rights.

Fair trade companies Etiko and Audrey Blue, which includes Mighty Good Undies, received A+ grades.

In what may come as a surprise to some, fast fashion company Zara’s parent company Inditex was the next best performer, receiving an A grade.

Overall grading (including slavery and labour rights)
The Register edited this to only include major brands relevant to New Zealand. The full list can be found here.
*Non-responsive companies

Company name  Grade
American ApparelB-
AS ColourB-
Cotton On, Cotton On Body, Cotton On KidsB+
Country RoadB+
David JonesB-
Forever NewB
Jay JaysC+
Just JeansC+
Karen WalkerC
Liminal ApparelA-
Mink PinkD+
Peter AlexanderC+
Pumpkin PatchD
R.M. WilliamsC+
Rubi ShoesB+
Sass & BideC+
Seed Heritage*F
Topman, TopshopC+
Valley GirlD+
Victoria's Secret*D+

As well as this, these brands were paying improved wages to workers in part of their supply chain:

  • Berlei
  • Bonds
  • City Chic
  • Cotton On, Cotton On Body, Cotton On Kids
  • Country Road
  • Cue
  • David Jones
  • Dotti
  • Factorie
  • Forever New
  • Glassons
  • H&M
  • Industrie 
  • Jay Jays
  • Jeanswest
  • Just Jeans
  • Karen Walker
  • Kmart
  • Kookai
  • Patagonia
  • Peter Alexander
  • Portmans
  • Rubi
  • Supre
  • Trenery
  • Witchery
  • Zara

Glassons is one New Zealand retailer that has significantly improved on last year's score. In 2015, it scored an F in the workers rights, monitoring and training, and traceability and transparency categories for not disclosing its practices. This year, it's received a C+ grade.

Hallenstein Glasson CEO Graeme Popplewell told The Register the improvement in its score reflects the hard work the company is doing to improve the conditions and rights of the people making its products. 

"There's still work to do, but we have further improvements planned both short term and long term that we will be working on with our suppliers and third parties," Popplewell says.

In November, Glassons opened up about its supply chain for the first time and shared the results of an audit with the public on its Facebook page. 

Popplewell says it's currently working with the Responsible Sourcing Network and Baptist World Aid, as well as developing further developing initiatives for improving its supply chain.

"Our Responsible Sourcing Code of Conduct sets out the requirements for our suppliers around pay, health and safety, working conditions, child labour, forced labour, employee representation and employee treatment. To ensure that these standards are adhered to, there is regular auditing by an external third party agency," he says.

Overall, retailers have improved but Baptist World Aid emphasises there is still work to be done, as 14.2 million people remain in forced labour exploitation. There are also still 168 million child labourers within the global economy.

The organisation says improving traceability will be one of the most important challenges to overcome for the industry, as inputs and raw materials sit outside the usual scope of companies and are often prone to forced and child labour.

Another area to focus on is the living wage to break the cycle of poverty for apparel workers, as minimum wages in some countries are dangerously low. Only three percent of the companies surveyed publicise data about the wages they pay to workers.

Whatever the case, Baptist World Aid says shopping ethically encourages companies to make their supply chains more ethical.

See the full Behind the Barcode report here.

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