Is fashion ethical yet? Report reveals the best and worst of Australian clothing
10 April 2019 at 8:11 am
Despite nearly 40 per cent of Australian clothing companies cleaning up their ethical act from the year before, only 5 per cent pay their factory workers a living wage, an annual report has revealed.
Baptist World Aid Australia’s 2019 Ethical Fashion Report, released on Wednesday, provides a comprehensive look into 130 clothing companies graded from A+ to F on whether they were meeting or failing ethical requirements.
Outland Denim were one of the top-rated brands this year achieving an A+ grading, while major Australian brands, Kookai, Cotton On and Country Road, all scored an average A- grade.
Brands such as Ally Fashion, Camilla and Marc, and Lowes were among 17 companies that received F gradings, given to those companies with no publicly available information regarding their ethical sourcing practices and that chose not to engage with the research process.
For the last five years, companies have been marked on gender equality, responsible purchasing practices, child and forced labour, and transparency, with this year being the first to include environmental management practices.
John Hickey, Baptist World Aid CEO, said environment practices was an acknowledgement of the severe impact the fashion industry had on the environment.
“Therefore, we have chosen to expand the report’s original focus from exclusively labour rights to address an issue we currently face on a global scale,” Hickey said.
“The new criterion evaluates a company’s ability to report and address a range of aspects in environmental management including emissions, materials, water use, wastewater and chemical use.”
In this area, companies achieved on average a C- grading.
Across the board, in the past year, the report found 38 per cent of companies have improved their overall grade, with a significant improvement across the industry in 79 per cent of the areas assessed.
Within each category, the report found a 22 per cent jump in readiness to address child slavery, a 17 per cent increase in responsible purchasing practices, and a 15 per cent increase in gender equality within the supply chain.
This year also witnessed the highest level of engagement from graded companies, sitting at nearly 80 per cent.
But Hickey said even though great improvements had been made, there was still a long way to go.
“Only 5 per cent of companies could demonstrate payment of a living wage in their last stage of the supply chain and so whilst intent is much stronger, that statistic is still very low,” Hickey told Pro Bono News.
He said he hoped the Modern Slavery Act, which was passed by the federal government earlier this year, would push companies to be more transparent in their treatment of workers.
“There’s still 34 companies that were graded D+, down to F. F is a company that not only doesn’t engage with us, but really does not have any meaningful public information about their supply chains,” he said.
“So we think there will be a lot of change with companies needing to step out of those lower grades because of the act.”
Director of Stop the Traffik Australia, Carolyn Kitto also said the Modern Slavery Act was a game changer for the Australian fasion industry.
“The act will ensure fashion brands are prioritising transparency, and consumers will be able to see what their most-loved labels are doing to address modern slavery in their supply chain,” Kitto said.
“But more importantly, the act has impacted the lives of millions of workers and their families.”
Hickey added that this year’s positive results were also a reflection of growing consumer awareness and demand for ethical practice that didn’t hurt vulnerable people.
“More and more shoppers want to know that if they purchase a piece of fashion, they can feel confident there hasn’t been exploitation in the supply chain,” he said.
“And companies are getting the sense that they can’t operate in isolation anymore.”