For the last two years, Fashion Revolution has appealed to some of the biggest fashion and apparel brands for information on their social and environmental policies. Brands are sent questionnaires that cover five different areas: policy and commitments; governance; traceability; know, show and fix; and spotlight issues, which this year are women, workers and waste. In the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which happened five years ago, the question of brands’ general practices – particularly when it comes to factory conditions, living wage and honesty regarding supply chains – has been pushed to the forefront, with organisations like Fashion Revolution lobbying for real change in the industry. So, which brands are doing the most to share their information this year?
Adidas and Reebok (which are actually both part of the same parent company) top the Index, with 58 per cent transparency (or 144.5 out of a possible 250 points) followed closely by Puma with 56 per cent and H&M with 55 per cent. Just behind them is Marks & Spencer with 51 per cent, ASOS with 50 per cent, Levi’s with 47, Zara scored 42 per cent and Lindex scored 37 per cent. While no brands fell in the higher categories (61 per cent or more), what is encouraging is that in last year’s results, no brands scored higher than 50 per cent. In fact, when you compare the 98 brands who were included in both the 2017 Index and this year’s, it proves that there has been a five per cent increase in transparency overall, suggesting that the efforts being made by Fashion Revolution are working. As Carry Somers, founder and global operations director of Fashion Revolution, says, “Over the last five years, millions of consumers have demanded a fairer, safer, cleaner industry. It’s working. We can see that brands are listening and the industry is starting to change.”
In terms of the luxury sector, it’s clear that it’s a lot further behind than the high street. Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss – all of whom scored 38 per cent – led the charge, while Gucci was close behind with 37 per cent and YSL with 36 per cent. Chanel only scored three per cent, Dolce and Gabbana one per cent and Dior scored a grand total of zero. As Sarah Ditty, head of policy at Fashion Revolution, explains, “The ethical-trade conversation is 20 years old, but the luxury brands weren’t there from the very beginning. A lot of their suppliers are based in Europe, while we were more focused on areas where the problems were perhaps more visible. As a result, they were less involved in the conversation.”
Sadly, the problem always has been – and remains – a global issue and is not simply something that is only happening in countries like Bangladesh, home to Rana Plaza. Debbie Coulter, of the Ethical Trading Initiative, explains: “Worker exploitation thrives in hidden situations away from public scrutiny. And you don’t have to travel along the back streets of Dakar or Deli to find that there are places in east London, Bradford, Manchester and particularly in Leicester where garments are made in the most horrific conditions and workers are being paid on average £3 per hour.”
Over the last five years, millions of consumers have demanded a fairer, safer, cleaner industry. It’s working. We can see that brands are listening and the industry is starting to change
While there’s no doubt that the situation is far from resolved, what is clear is that when brands are put under pressure to be more transparent, change happens. “Transparency is becoming the new normal,” says Coulter, which certainly bodes well for the future. Another issue that does need addressing further, however, is that of gender equality in the supply chain. This year’s Index has shown that only 40 per cent of brands publish a policy on equal pay both for their own employees and in their supply chain, while less than half disclose the percentage of women in executive and management positions. Furthermore, only 14 per cent publish the annual gender pay gap within the company, and most of those that do are British and thus required to do so by law.
Change may feel frustratingly slow but, given the previously impenetrable nature of big businesses and their supply chains, it's clear that progress is happening. Supporting organisations like Fashion Revolution is a step we can all take to help make that progress occur more quickly. As Orsola de Castro, co-founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution, says, “We shouldn’t think of the supply chain as some faraway land. We are all in the fashion-supply chain. We all have a responsibility to choose our clothes intelligently every day.” One way of doing this is to simply ask the question: "Who made my clothes?" Take a picture of your clothing label, then post it on social media, tagging the brand it was made by and ask, using the hashtag #whomademyclothes?
Today also sees the launch of Fashion Revolution’s new manifesto, which lays out a vision with 10 action points for a cleaner, safer fashion industry. “It is brave,” says de Castro. "It is audacious because it paints a picture of what fashion looks like when fashion is done right.” The team at Fashion Revolution is asking for people to head to the website to sign the manifesto, pushing further forward in the ongoing struggle to make fashion a safer, happier place for everyone, including the environment. As Carry Somers says, “We’re calling upon the global fashion industry to turn its commitment to responsible sourcing into action this Fashion Revolution Week. Too many people working in the fashion industry, mostly women, are still underpaid, unsafe and mistreated. It’s time for change.”