Fashion Revolution Calls For Brands To Be More Transparent

Fashion Revolution's newly released Fashion Transparency Index demonstrates that the fashion industry needs to do a lot more about environmental and human rights issues.

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Fashion Revolution’s sixth annual Fashion Transparency Index reveals that the fashion industry is still too slow on disclosing key information about human rights and environmental policies.

The fashion report analyses and ranks 250 of the world’s biggest fashion brands based on how transparent they are about their practices and impacts within their operations and supply chains.

In fact, the socio-economic impact on workers seems to have got worse with many brands failing to disclose cancelled orders or late payments due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

What is Fashion Revolution?

Fashion Revolution is a non-profit organisation that was founded in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, killing over 1100 people in Bangladesh. It has since become the world’s largest fashion activism movement, operating in over 90 countries worldwide.

The movement is focused on building a global fashion industry that works to protect the environment and value people over growth and profit.

To achieve this goal, they carry out extensive research into the industry’s practices and impact to ultimately encourage brands to do better throughout their supply chains.

The Fashion Transparency Index isn’t designed to be a shopping guide nor does it reveal whether brands are ethical or sustainable.

It was created to shine a light on how transparent the world’s largest fashion brands are when it comes to disclosing information on environmental and ethical issues.

The Index can be used as a way to hold these brands to account and push for faster change in the fashion industry.

The world’s largest brands and retailers disclose very little about their efforts to address important topics such as poor purchasing practices, living wages, racial and gender equality, overproduction and waste, water use and carbon emissions in the supply chain

Key findings in the Fashion Transparency Index 2021

On the whole, Fashion Revolution found most major brands to be slow or virtually non-existent in addressing key ethical and environmental issues. Some have even taken steps backwards.

Global Policy Director and report author Sarah Ditty believes the COVID-19 pandemic has been largely responsible for the industry backsliding on many human rights and environmental issues.

She says: “This year’s Fashion Transparency Index shows encouraging signs that some progress is being made on transparency, but there is a lot more that big brands need to be doing in this area.”

“The world’s largest brands and retailers disclose very little about their efforts to address important topics such as poor purchasing practices, living wages, racial and gender equality, overproduction and waste, water use and carbon emissions in the supply chain.”

In the Fashion Transparency Index 2021:

  • A whopping 99% of major fashion brands don’t disclose the number of workers in the supply chain that are being paid below a living wage.
  • 96% of brands haven’t published a roadmap on how they plan to achieve a living wage for all workers in their supply chain.
  • 62% of brands publish their carbon footprint in their own facilities despite most carbon emissions occurring at processing and raw material levels. Only 26% disclose this information at manufacturing level and 17% at raw material level.
  • Some good news though. 27% of major brands now disclose some of their processing facilities, which is up from 24% last year.

Other findings in the Fashion Transparency Index 2021

1. Cancelled orders during the pandemic leave garment workers jobless

The Transparency Index revealed that just 3% of major fashion brands have disclosed how many workers in their supply chain were laid off due to the pandemic.

In fact, Fashion Revolution hasn’t been able to get a clear picture of the negative socio-economic impact workers have experienced throughout the pandemic.

Only 18% have disclosed the percentage of their complete or partial order cancellations.

On top of that, many major brands have been paying their suppliers late, meaning that clothes are often worn by consumers before brands have even paid the factories that made them.

Sarah Ditty comments: “The findings of this year’s Index serve to remind us that the majority of big brands still do not disclose information on what they are doing to pay living wages to workers across their supply chains.”

“Brands have continued to profit throughout the pandemic whilst garment workers have endured the devastating impacts of their cancelled orders including unpaid wages, food insecurity, employment instability and poverty.”

2. Failures on addressing inequalities in supply chains

This year’s Transparency Index included new indicators which questioned major brands on whether they publish their actions on ‘the promotion of racial equality’ within their business.

Although many of them are actively vocal about racial justice movements on social media, only 12% publish relevant information about their actions in their own business.

These findings indicate that brands aren’t being transparent on the issues of racial inequalities in terms of employment and pay differences in their own supply chains.

Many of these supply chains are in the Global South and Far East and predominantly employ women of colour. Brands, therefore, benefit from showing a front against inequalities without addressing any in their own operations.

3. Little transparency on addressing environmental concerns despite climate crisis

The Index reveals that it’s impossible to get a clear picture of the scale of overproduction in the fashion industry as just 14% of major brands disclose the overall quantity of products made annually.

This theme runs throughout their environmental data with only 22% sharing what happens to clothes through clothing take-back schemes. On the whole, unwanted clothes tend to be resold overseas rather than recycled into new textiles and clothing.

What’s more, 36% disclose what they’re doing to cut plastic out of their packaging but only 18% do so for textiles derived from virgin fossil fuels, like nylon and polyester.

4. Little is being done to hold fashion brands to account

The Index highlights that the overarching issue is the lack of legislation in place holding brands to account.

There needs to be legislation in place that requires transparency from brands on human rights and environmental issues. There should also be stronger repercussions for those guilty of violating and failing to monitor these issues.

When brands fail, the legislation should ensure sanctions and reparations for harm done.

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Highest scoring brands for transparency in 2021

Ranking highly in Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index doesn’t necessarily mean that the brand is ethical or sustainable.

Although more major fashion brands are taking steps to be more transparent, Fashion Revolution feels that progress is still too slow in some key areas.

These are purchasing practices, overproduction, living wages, water use and carbon emissions in the supply chain.

No brand scored above 80% in the 250 possible points. The highest scoring brands on transparency are:

  • OVS (78%)
  • H&M (68%)
  • Timberland (66%)
  • The North Face (66%)
  • C&A (65%)
  • Vans (65%)
  • Gildan (63%)
  • Esprit (60%)
  • United Colors of Benetton (60%)
  • Tommy Hilfiger (59%)
  • Calvin Klein (59%)
  • Van Heusen (59%)
  • Gucci (56%)
  • Target Australia (56%)
  • Kmart Australia (56%

Lowest scoring brands in 2021

20 major brands scored a flat 0% in the transparency index. They are:

  • Belle
  • Big Bazaar
  • Billabong
  • celio
  • Elle Tahari
  • Fashion Nova
  • Heilan Home
  • Jessica Simpson
  • Max Mara
  • Metersbonwe
  • Mexx
  • New Yorker
  • Quiksilver
  • Pepe Jeans
  • Roxy
  • Semir
  • Tom Ford
  • Tory Burch
  • Youngor

The Fashion Transparency Index is encouraging brands to step up

Despite the huge amount of work that needs to be done by the fashion industry, overall, the Transparency Index has been encouraging brands to be more transparent.

More big brands than ever before (47%) are disclosing their first-tier manufacturers, which is up from 13% since 2016.

The most major brands since the Index began in 2016 are now sharing information about some of their raw material suppliers (11% up from 7% in 2020 and 0% in 2016).

Although steps are small (arguably too small), it’s nonetheless undeniable that steps are being taken in terms of transparency in the fashion industry.

Visit Fashion Revolution to read more about their Transparency Index and how it works.