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How ethical are your favourite clothing brands?

By: Claire Gray

It’s been two years since the last Ethical Fashion Guide was released and our favorite brands have been working hard to reduce damage to the planet and protect the people making their clothes.  Based on research done by Tearfund NZ and Baptist World Aid Australia, the 2021 Ethical Fashion Guide reveals which local and international brands have hit new highs and which are lagging behind. 

This year, 98 companies representing over 400 brands have been awarded A+ to F grades based on their efforts to address worker exploitation and environmental impact in their supply chains.  Each company is surveyed across 18 different facets of their supply chains broadly covering policies & governance, tracing & risk, supplier relationships & human rights monitoring, worker empowerment, and environmental sustainability.  The final grade awarded to a company reflects how they are tracking in all areas in relation to the industry average score.   

The good news is that we can celebrate the excellent progress made by Kiwi companies over the past two years.  AS Colour, Hallenstein Glassons, Kathmandu, Macpac (that all scored A) and Joyya (formally Freeset) ranked in the top 20 companies overall.  Macpac was also among the most improved companies with their grade jumping from B- in 2019 to A this year.  Other Kiwi companies improved their grades including Barkers and Postie that now both score B. 

As usual, the A+ spots were all taken by brands that have built their business around empowering workers and minimising harm to the planet. These brands were Etiko, Joyya, and Mights Good Basics.

Other much-loved Australian and international brands received A grades including Adidas, Country Road, H&M, Icebreaker, Nike, Patagonia, Rodd & Gunn, Witchery, and Zara.

Unfortunately, a number of brands were unresponsive to the research or chose not to participate and had minimal publicly available information.  These brands are denoted with an I in the Guide and received D or F grades.  Among these brands are Decjuba, Farmers, Forever 21, Billabong, Industrie, Jeanswest, Lorna Jane, Mirrou, and R. M. Williams.

The Ethical Fashion Report, the research behind the Guide, reveals overall industry progress is taking place with many companies improving on the basics including publishing supplier lists, tracing to the raw materials level of the supply chain, and increasing use of sustainable fibres.  However, the Report is critical of the outcomes that are being achieved, or not achieved for workers.  The report cites that only 4% of companies pay a living wage across all their final stage facilities and 15% can demonstrate living wages are being paid in one or more final stage facilities. 

Tearfund’s Education and Advocacy Manager, Claire Gray, says, “low pay remains a persistent issue in fashion supply chains. This feeds other issues like excessive overtime and poor living conditions for garment workers.  Increasing wages would change workers’ lives, but we’re not seeing real progress being made to this end.”

The Ethical Fashion Report also identifies three challenges facing the fashion industry – modern slavery, climate change, and Covid-19 – and measures what actions are in place to address these challenges.

For a full list of brands and grades download The Ethical Fashion Guide at www.tearfund.org.nz/ethicalfashionguide

To read more about the challenges facing the fashion industry read The Ethical Fashion Report.

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