The Ethical Fashion Report is a study released by Tearfund, that rates hundreds of clothing brands on how ethical and environmentally conscious their garment manufacturing practices are. With Fashion Revolution week just been, the citizens (us) were challenged to reach out to our favourite brands and ask ‘who made my clothes?’ to encourage them to be more transparent about human rights in the fashion industry.
Fashion Revolution Week fell on the 5th anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, a complex in Bangladesh which collapsed killing more than 1000 garment industry workers. This sparked a worldwide conversation around exploitation and underpayment and the conditions that some garment workers were being forced to work in. A lot of brands outsource their manufacturing to developing countries where salaries are often less than the living wage and worker rights aren’t upheld. It’s a sad truth, but since the incident in Bangladesh 5 years ago, The Ethical Fashion Report has been born, which helps to expose exactly how ethical and eco-conscious fashion labels claim to be in their steps of production.
This blog will summarise the ethical fashion report a wee bit so you can make better buying decisions and support brands that are conscious of worker’s rights and eco-friendly textiles.
I read somewhere recently that 3/4 of all purchases are made by women! Meaning we play a pretty big role in the fashion industry. If we didn’t buy so many clothes, then there wouldn’t be as much of a demand, and there wouldn’t be millions of underpaid workers and thousands of tonnes of unwanted clothing sitting in the landfill.
We have a responsibility to make educated buying decisions. Everything we buy is like voting towards what we will and won't accept in the fashion industry.
So.. who did make your clothes?
According to the report, 43 million people work in factories making garments and textiles. Almost 17 million of these people are in India, 6 million in China and 5 million in Bangladesh. Although most of these workers are in India, it’s actually China that exports the most clothing - 37.2 percent of the global share.
Nesha Begum Image via www.fashionrevolution.org
The companies that have the best labour rights management systems are Outland Denim, Common Good, Icebreaker, Freeset, Etiko, and the Might Good Group who all received. These brands knew the supply chain from farm to factory and have close relationships with the suppliers. Companies falling in close behind were Patagonia, Kathmandu, and Cotton on. Being able to trace raw materials that are used in production used to be quite restricted to just fair trade companies but now 42% of all clothing companies are seeking to trace cotton suppliers. Kathmandu is the standout company able to trace three-quarters of its cotton supply (this is good compared to most brands) and all of its down feather supply. Adidas currently uses 60% of traceable cotton.
The report stated that if workers were to be paid a minimum wage then they would be able to lift themselves out of poverty. The living wage in Bangladesh is 2.8 times the current amount paid to an entry-level worker. Only one brand, Outland Denim, was able to show that they pay a living wage to all their workers at the first tier of production.
Brands that scored the two best grades overall for ethical and environmental efforts were; Audrey Blue, Common Good, Etiko. Freeset, Icebreaker, Liminal Apparel, Outland Denim, Cotton On, Factorie, Kathmandu, Kowtow, Patagonia, RREPP, Rubi, Supre.
Responsive brands that scored the lowest in these categories were; Valleygirl, Nasty Gal, PrettyLittleThing, Forever 21, Isabelle Rossi, Boohoo, Bardot.
One thing I learned from Tearfund's report was that some brands were not accurately represented for a few reasons. If a brand was ‘unresponsive’ or didn’t give information in time, then they received the worst score (F) - no matter how ethical or eco-friendly their processes were. I think it’s super important to note, that while this survey rates brands on ethical labour and points of production, a bad score doesn’t necessarily mean that a brand isn’t manufacturing ethically.
For instance, Karen Walker, The New Zealand designer, had a very good score in the 2017 report but chose not to participate in this year's report resulting in a not so great score. Even though Karen Walker continually makes an effort to be ethical and sustainable this isn’t reflected in the score.
“Our 2018 grade in this survey, compared with 2017’s grade, doesn’t reflect our social responsibility systems and ethical standards or the continued progress we’ve made in the last 12 months, it merely reflects what information we choose to make available on our website. We’re always happy to answer any questions directly from our community with regard to our social responsibility via: https://www.karenwalker.com/social-responsibility.” - Karen Walker
While we're on the topic, here's some information about Salt Label.
All swimwear is handmade in a boutique manufacturing environment on the Gold Coast, Australia. With around 10-15 local staff the company looks after their employees and the quality of the garments is a great representation of this. The fabric used is ECONYL which is made from recycled materials like old fishing nets, fabric scraps, and ocean plastic waste. ECONYL regenerated nylon reduces the global warming impact of nylon by up to 80% compared with the material from oil.
Our eco-conscious mindset goes beyond the fabrics, we use acid-free tissue paper which is printed using soy-based ink, 100% recycled paper hang tags, and 100% recycled plastic is used to make the waterproof reusable pouch which each pair of swimwear comes with.
“It takes a lot of time and research to source sustainable materials which shouldn't be the case at all. I'm hoping as time goes on more and more suppliers, manufacturers and consumers take this way of living into consideration.” - Suzy, founder of Salt Label.
Image via ECONYL