On the 6th anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy - how transparent are fashion brands being now?24th Apr 19 | Beauty
The Fashion Transparency Index, out today, measures how open brands are about their environmental impact and human rights violations.
With thousands of people taking to the streets to protest climate change and hundreds arrested over it, conversations around the impact we’re having on the environment have reached fever pitch.
And few meaningful dialogues about tackling the environmental issues facing the planet would be complete without mentioning fashion. It is one of the top polluting industries – so much so that earlier this month Extinction Rebellion staged a mock fashion show on Oxford Circus in London to protest the impact of fast fashion.
This week is Fashion Revolution Week, organised by the non-profit organisation Fashion Revolution which works for a more sustainable industry. As part of the week, it has released the fourth annual Fashion Transparency Index, where 200 brands are ranked not just in terms of environmental transparency, but also with human rights issues.
It’s also six years since the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh which killed 1,135 people working in unsafe conditions in garment factories supplying cheap clothing to some UK high street brands. So what does the index teach us about what’s changed and what should consumers and brands be doing to help create a more transparent fashion industry?
The Fashion Transparency Index
The Fashion Transparency Index isn’t about listing which brands are the most eco-friendly or who is doing the most for human rights. It’s all about how much information is publicly available regarding these topics: policy and commitments, governance, traceability, supplier assessment and remediation and spotlight issues (which focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals).
Fashion Revolution has chosen 200 of the world’s largest brands and retailers across luxury and fast fashion, and has evaluated how open they are about these key issues, giving an overall transparency percentage. Sports and outdoor brands lead the charge with Adidas, Reebok and Patagonia coming in first with 64% transparency – it’s the first year ever that brands have scored more than 60%. ASOS, Puma, Nike, The North Face and Marks & Spencer were all in the 51-60% range, but depressingly the average score was just 21%.
Although the index might not immediately improve the state of the industry, it will hopefully drive change by showing brands where they can do better and making them accountable for their actions.
Founder of Fashion Revolution Carry Somers says: “We believe transparency leads to a greater accountability”, which will in turn lead to positive change in the industry.
Fashion Revolution wants the industry to adopt more concrete and measurable goals, both in terms of the environment and human rights. There has been an improvement in transparency of many of the brands listed on the index – particularly with luxury labels like Gucci and Bottega Veneta – but there is still a lot to be done. “Much of the fashion industry still operates in an opaque manner,” says Somers.
What brands need to be doing
Despite improvements from last year’s index, there’s still lots fashion labels could be doing. One particular issue which has come out of the report is a lack of information around how brands are working for gender equality, which is troubling as women make up the majority of the fashion industry, from the factories to the shop floors.
What the fashion industry does with excess stock is still a relatively murky area, which is surprising considering the uproar around the news of Burberry burning its unsold stock last year. Only 26.5% of the brands on the index are open about what they do with defective or surplus stock, the rest choosing not to disclose any details.
Fashion Revolution hopes to push more brands to publish their supply chains and make them easily accessible for anyone who wants to hold them accountable.
Some brands are taking these issues seriously. Adil Rehman, senior ethical trade manager at ASOS, says: “Without transparency there is no accountability, and without accountability there is no change.” He adds that brands have a responsibility to meet the social conscience of the customer, and transparency is the main way to build trust between the two – saying: “There is no hiding any more”.
What consumers need to be doing
The index arms consumers with more information, which can help us make more clearer choices about where we shop.
Fashion Revolution has created the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes – it has over 400,000 hits on Instagram and is a way for consumers to push brands into being open about their supply chains. Somers describes how an industry insider told her that every person who uses the hashtag is considered to represent 10,000 more people who want to know the same, but haven’t registered this publicly on social media.
Sarah Ditty, policy director at Fashion Revolution and author of the report, says really “the most powerful thing” consumers can do is contact brands directly, asking questions about their policies and practices as well as raising any concerns they might have about the business.
Consumers could lobby governments to do more as well – Ditty particularly mentions a need for increased pressure to make sure the Modern Slavery Act is properly enforced in the UK.
This pressure from consumers will hopefully push brands into being more open about their environmental and human rights practices across the business.
Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot of work. Rehman from ASOS describes how consumers want a simple message, but it’s a complex topic and it’s not really as simple as being told which brands are ethical and which aren’t.
Hopefully as brands become more transparent, it will become easier to make make more informed choices about where and how we shop.
You can find out more about Fashion Revolution and the index here.
© Press Association 2019