The 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide by Tearfund has shown Kiwis how some of our most trusted brands have performed when put under the microscope. A lot of the brands within New Zealand performed well and had good results, yet some scored lower than expected. So, what do the grades reflect, and what should we take from the study?
The guide is based on research by Tearfund New Zealand and Baptist World Aid Australia. 114 companies were assessed, with grades given based on individual efforts to address worker exploitation in supply chains.
The final grade (A+ down to F) was based on three different areas of the supply chain, raw materials, inputs production and final stage production. This was broken down into four categories;
1) Policies – 15 percent of grade
2) Traceability and transparency – 30 percent of grade
3) Auditing and supplier relationships – 25 percent of grade
4) Worker empowerment - 30 percent of grade
The grey category which is left over signifies how much room for improvement each brand has, the more grey a brand has, the lower the score.
The final grade is an average of how the company performs in all four areas. Therefore, the circle device of two B+ graded brands may look different as each grade represents a range of percentage points.
The categories each consist of a percentage score, with the final grade determined by all combined to reach 100 percent.
So how did some of our favourite brands do?
AS Colour: C+
AS Colour came in relatively low for our expectations, scoring a pass mark of C+. The brand had a low percentage score for all categories but fell short most for worker empowerment.
Berlei and Barely There: A-
Both brands scored an A-, with matching scores for each category. Both brands performed well for transparency, but still, have room for improvement.
Menswear Barkers chain scored a pass of C+, falling short at worker empowerment and supplier relations.
Surfwear brand Billabong scored a C, with its worst performing categories being worker empowerment and supplier relationships.
Underwear brands Bonds did well in both traceability/ transparency, as well supplier relations and policies.
Bras N Things: F
Bras N Things scored an F for declining to take part in the survey.
The sneaker brand did well in policies and traceability but fell very short of supplier relations and almost no worker empowerment.
Cotton On brands: A
All of the Cotton on brands, from Cotton On, Cotton On kids, Supre, Rubi and Factorie all scored an A. performing equally well across all categories, but scoring highest on traceability and transparency.
Country Road: A
Also performing at an A grade level, Country Road scored high in all categories, with its lowest percentage coming from worker empowerment.
David Jones: B-
Australian retailer David Jones scored a B-, lacking in worker empowerment and supplier relationships.
Decjuba, along with its luxe basics line, scored an F for not taking part in the survey. The brand also refused last year, saying in a public statement it has its own in-house policy team to monitor working conditions.
Clothing line Esprit scored a B+, performing well in traceability but falling behind in worker empowerment.
EziBuy, although participated did not pass, scoring D+. The brand came in short for all categories, with an almost zero rating for worker empowerment.
Farmers did not engage in the survey but scored a D- from what fashion guide could asses without the company’s contribution.
Forever new: B-
Forever New scored low for worker empowerment and supplier relationships but managed to bring up its overall score with good policies and transparency.
Glassons and Hallenstein: B+
The Glassons and Hallenstein chains performed will with transparency and policy, but were both pulled down by lower supplier relationships and worker empowerment.
H&M had high percentage scores due to good transparency and its yearly sustainability report, yet lacked substantially in worker empowerment.
Ice Breaker: A+
Icebreaker, recently purchased by American company VF, scored well in all categories, but still had room for improvement.
Industrie scored well thanks in part to good working relations and complete transparency but was pulled down by low supplier relationships.
Scoring an A- puts Jockey among the top for our underwear brands, doing well in all categories; except falling shorter at worker empowerment.
Karen Walker: C
Karen Walker did not engage in the survey but scored a C from what fashion guide could asses without the company’s contribution.
Kathmandu had high scores within transparency and policies, yet fell short at supplier relationships.
Kmart’s B+ was in large part thanks to transparency and policies, yet low supplier relations and even lower worker empowerment put the chain at a B rating.
Unsurprisingly, ethical fashion brand Kowtow scored high. Let down only by transparency and traceability.
Great supplier relations and traceability put Lululemon in a good grade, yet lower worker empowerment saw a pull-down of performance.
Sports giant Nike had poor worker empowerment and supplier relations; the label was saved only by good policies and traceability.
Coming in just above Nike, Puma’s better supplier relations saw it score a B grade, but was let down heavily by low worker empowerment.
R.M. Williams: B
Only transparency and good policies saved the shoe brand from a very low worker empowerment rating and average supplier relations.
Although good policies in place, Ruby fell short in every other aspect, including almost a zero-percentage score in worker empowerment.
The Warehouse: C
The Warehouse did not engage in the survey but scored a C from what fashion guide could asses without the company’s contribution.
Scoring a D for the brand came from a low performance across all sectors, specifically more in worker empowerment and supplier relations.
Trelise Cooper: F
Trelise Cooper did not engage in the survey but scored an F from what fashion guide could asses without the company’s contribution.
Witchery was let down by worker empowerment and supplier relations but performed well when it came to transparency and policies.
Zara, and its homeware range Zara Home, scored an A-. Doing well in part to good supplier relations and solid policies put in place.
So, what can we tell from the report? Most of our brands in New Zealand have good policies put in place but fall short when it comes to worker empowerment. This goes to show that although it may be easy to create good policies, sticking to them involves more effort.
Hearing workers voices through the supply chain is not easy, as it involves trade unions, collective bargaining agreements, and grievance mechanisms. Yet those companies who put in the effort scored the highest, and will no doubt earn loyalty and respect from the conscious consumer.
As for those who did not engage with the survey, the guide acknowledges that many of the non-responsive companies may be doing more to improve their ethical sourcing than it has been able to assess them on.
A lot of brands still have a long way to go to reach an acceptable score, yet the transparency the guide provides means consumers can know who they’re supporting and what they’re doing to support proper working conditions.
To see how other brands performed and more information on the grading system check out the Tearfund site.