Gershon Nimbalker, Advocacy Manager at Baptist World Aid joins Dave to discuss Baptist World Aid Australia’s 5th Ethical Fashion Report
Baptist World Aid Australia’s fifth and largest Ethical Fashion Report graded 114 apparel companies (or 407 brands) from A to F on the systems that companies have in place to uphold the rights of workers.
The report revealed significant improvement in supply chain transparency, noting that until the Rana Plaza tragedy, few global fashion companies chose to make information about their supply chains publicly available.
“The Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh catapulted the plight of workers into the minds of consumers and companies globally,” said Baptist World Aid Australia’s Advocacy Manager, Gershon Nimbalker.
“The global fashion industry now recognises that transparency demonstrates a willingness to be accountable to consumers and workers, and we commend the 34% of companies publishing full direct supplier lists,” continued Mr Nimbalker.
Mr Nimbalker stressed that worker empowerment and payment of a living wage remain the areas where the most advancement still needs to be made, while tracing of raw materials remains a significant challenge.
“Year on year, Our Report has shown that companies are not taking the challenge of paying a living wage seriously. Sadly, our fifth report is no different, with only 5% of companies able to prove they were paying all workers at the final stage of production a living wage.”
“Outland Denim is a standout when it comes to demonstrating paying all its workers a fair living wage, whereas Ally Fashion, Decjuba, Wish, Pavement United Brands and Voyager Distributing all received an F grade due to a lack of transparency with labour rights management systems.”
“Today’s consumers want assurance that the brands they buy from are doing their bit to protect workers from being exploited, and the global fashion industry has responded to this by improving its systems, forming new alliances, and becoming more transparent. That being said, there is still a great deal of improvement to be made.”
Knowing suppliers from farm to factory
While The Report reveals that most companies know all their manufacturing suppliers, only 18% of companies know all their fabric suppliers, and only 7% know where their raw materials like cotton originated.
“Fashion production throughout the Asia-Pacific is marred by the presence of slavery, and problems of child labour remain persistent,” said Mr Nimbalker. “If companies can’t identify, or don’t care, where all their materials are made, then how can they be sure workers aren’t being exploited or even enslaved?”
Living wage a major concern
The Report reveals that only 5% of companies could demonstrate that all their manufacturing workers were being paid a living wage, and 70% of the industry is yet to take significant action to improve worker wages.
“The global fashion industry can facilitate a road out of poverty for hundreds of thousands of people, or drive oppression and exploitation. Companies should continue to strengthen their labour rights systems and ensure that workers – from farm to factory – receive a living wage,” said Mr Nimbalker.
Transparency – if shoppers can’t see, how do they know?
The Report finds that more companies than ever before are practicing transparency, yet more than half (54%) of the companies assessed were yet to publish any details of their suppliers, demonstrating an unwillingness to be held accountable for their treatment of workers.
The Australian Government has committed to legislating a Modern Slavery Act in Australia by the end of the year. Among other things, this legislation will require companies to publish details of the systems they have in place to ensure that workers aren’t enslaved.
The gender pay gap
This year for the first time, The Report’s grading metric assessed companies on their gender policies and strategies to address the widespread gender-based discrimination in recruitment and sexual harassment in supply chains. The Report highlights that all countries in the Asia-Pacific have a gender pay gap – with the gap most significant in Pakistan, India, and Sri-Lanka at 66.5%, 35.3%, and 30.3% respectively.
“The last year has proven to be a transformational one for many women, with the #MeToo movement shining a light on intrenched workplace sexual harassment. However, we can’t lose focus on the plight of lower-wage workers in industries where sexual harassment is also rampant. “
Tracking Fashion’s environmental footprint
In another first Baptist World Aid began initial assessment of companies’ efforts in environmental management, and anticipates this to become a part of the formal grading system in 2019. Preliminary results reveal a significant correlation between the strongest labour rights performers and strong environmental systems.
Outland Denim, Freeset, Mighty Good Group, Etiko, H&M, Common Good, Kowtow, Rrepp, Patagonia and Icebreaker demonstrated outstanding environmental management.
Although many large global firms had some environmental systems in place, firms headquartered in Australia and New Zealand are largely trailing behind their international counterparts.
Consumers can order a digital and/or physical copy of the 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide by visiting Baptist World Aid’s website www.behindthebarcode.org.au. More information on individual company’s results and the research methodology is also available at this website.
TRANSPARENCY AND TRACEABILITY
- In 2013, just 16% of companies were publishing the names and addresses of all their manufacturing suppliers. It is now 34%.
- 12 companies begun publishing their supplier list in the last year, including Jeanswest, Asos, and Gorman.
AUDITING AND SUPPLIER RELATIONSHIPS
- Efforts to trace suppliers have improved substantially in the last five years. In 2013, only 49% of companies were tracing inputs (such as fabric suppliers) and 17% were tracing their raw materials suppliers (such as cotton farms). This year it’s increased to 78% and 42%, respectively.
- Kathmandu remains a stand out performer when it comes to tracing raw materials, using a combination of BCI and Fairtrade cotton to trace three quarters of its cotton supply and, through Responsible Down, has traced 100% of its down supply.
- The majority (78%) of companies surveyed were revealed not to have clear strategy in place to address discrimination faced by women in their supply chain.
- Glassons were identified as going beyond assessing and monitoring specific gender policies for most of its sourcing countries, with established strategies to promote gender equality in their supply chain including: encouraging factories to have a female worker representative within factories that have a workforce with over 50% female staff; asking that suppliers display information on women’s rights within facilities; expanding business relationships with female-owned enterprises; providing or supporting training to workers, suppliers, and Glassons’ staff.
ABOUT THE REPORT
The 2018 Ethical Fashion Report is the culmination of 10 months of research by Baptist World Aid Australia, an aid and development organisation with a long history of campaigning on issues of international social justice and is the fifth of its kind, with the first Ethical Fashion Report being published in 2013.
This latest report assesses 114 apparel companies and 407 brands, 3 times the number of companies in the first report. To evaluate the apparel companies represented in the report, an A – F grading system was used to evaluate four key pillars necessary for a strong labour rights management system.
- Traceability and Transparency
- Monitoring and supplier relationships
- Worker empowerment
Over three quarters of the companies assessed directly engaged in the research process. However, a small number of companies remained non-responsive despite multiple attempts at engaging with them.
Grades in this year’s Report are not directly comparable to past reports, due to adjustments in the grading tool. For more information refer to the methodology section of the Report.
COMMENT ON NON-RESPONSIVE COMPANIES
Brands which are non-responsive are indicated in this Report by an asterisk next to their name and assessed on whatever information they have made publicly available. They were also given the opportunity to provide a short statement as to why they chose not to respond, and these can be found on page 93 of the report.
Baptist World Aid acknowledges that many of the non-responsive brands may be doing more to improve their ethical sourcing than what they have publicly diclosed. However, if brands do not disclose, or are unwilling to disclose what they are doing to ensure workers are not exploited in their supply chains, then it becomes near impossible for consumers to know if these brands are investing sufficiently to mitigate these risks.
ABOUT ‘BEHIND THE BARCODE’ SERIES
The 2018 Australian Ethical Fashion Report is the seventh report to be released in a series investigating the ethical practices of consumer industries. Since the release of the 2013 Australian Fashion Report and the Electronics Industry Trends Report in 2014, thousands of consumers have worked to influence the labour rights practices of companies and brands including Kmart Australia, Target Australia, Big W, Cotton On Group, Myer, David Jones and Best & Less. Since the inaugural report, many of these brands have also worked proactively to improve the ethical performance of their supply chains, including through improving traceability and transparency.
ABOUT BAPTIST WORLD AID AUSTRALIA
Baptist World Aid Australia is an international aid and development organisation, established in 1959. The organisation works in 25 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific across four key areas; child sponsorship program, community development, disaster management and advocacy. Baptist World Aid has been involved in campaigning various industries to end worker exploitation for over nine years and began research into the Fashion and Electronics industries in 2010.