We all want our style to reflect our personality and mood, but does your clothing align with your values? This new report ranks Australia’s favourite fashion brands to help you make better choices. And while the results are encouraging, there’s still a LOT to be done.
The Australian Fashion Report by Baptist World Aid was first issued following the shocking Rana Plaza collapse, in which more than a thousand textile workers were killed and thousands more injured in Bangladesh. The tragedy highlighted the inhumane conditions people work in to produce many of our favourite clothing brands.
According to the report, released last month, there are 14.2 million people in forced labour around the world, with a further 168 million children. From picking cotton to “trimming and finishing”, many of those exploited are for the sake of cheap fashion.
The good news is that this report, three years after the Rana Plaza collapse, shows that many Australian fashion companies are taking their obligations to the humans that create their products seriously.
A total of 87 companies were graded from A+ to F for FAIL based on the strength of their labour rights management system – that is the policies they have in place to ensure there is no exploitation right across their supply chain. It’s worth noting that BWA did no physically examine working conditions in the factories and farms themselves – they used publically available information about each company’s policies and the examined the efficacy of systems put in place.
If this sounds like a whole lot of talky talk and not enough action, well, you’re kind of right BUT the very fact that companies are even thinking about these issues is a huge step up. Improved transparency means less chances for companies to put profits over people, and is hopefully the beginning of the end of the idea of “disposable fashion”.
Let’s be clear, there is still a lot to be done. The BWA report shows that only 5 per cent of fashion brands analysed knew the working conditions of the suppliers of the raw materials (cotton, bamboo etc) that made up their t-shirts and jeans. The fact is, wherever the spotlight fails to shine, these are the places where exploitation will flourish.
One of the main issues in the developing world is that minimum wage is simply not enough for anyone to live on, let alone break the cycle of poverty. This means it’s not good enough for a factory in Cambodia or Bangladesh or China to say they are paying minimum wage. An ethical company pays its workers a “living wage” that gives them some hope and dignity in return for their long hours of labour. At this stage only 32 per cent of companies have workers on significantly more than minimum wage.
Overall, the average grade for 87 popular fashion companies in Australia was a meagre C+.
One solution to this issue is to purchase Fair Trade clothing, and these companies outperform in the report. But what about your favourite high-street clothing brand? How well does it care for the people who make the clothes you buy?
The following companies are listed in order of the grade they received. The overall grade was found by combining four marks for Policies, Knowing your Suppliers, Auditing & Supplier Relationships, and Worker Empowerment. If you’re surprised by one of the results, take a look at the chart on page 6 of the Australian Fashion Report to see where they stood up and where they fell down.
One final thought on ethical fashion: this report focuses only on the human rights involved in our fashion purchases, not the environmental factors. This is a whole other story… If you want a really great overview of how well a fashion company looks after people and the planet, check out the Good On You app by the Ethical Consumers Association.
* means the company did not disclose information.
A is for Awesome
Etiko (Fair Trade) (A+)
Inditex (Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho)
Adidas Group (A-)
Liminal Apparel (Fair Trade) (A-)
Rrepp (Fair Trade) (A-)
B is for Better Choice
APG & Co (Sportscraft, SABA, JAG, Willow) (B+)
Cotton On Group (B+)
Country Road Group (B+)
Nudie Jeans (B+)
Fruit of the Loom
Hanesbrands Inc. (Playtex, Loveable)
Sussan Group (Sussan, Sportsgirl, SuzanneGrae)
American Apparel (B-)
AS Colour (B-)
Cue Clothing Co (B-)
David Jones (B-)
Target Australia (B-)
VF Corporation (Lee, Wrangler, North Face, Reef, Nautica) (B-)
C is for could do better
PVH Corp* (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Van Heusen, Speedo)
Simon de Winter
Webster Holdings (David Lawrence, Marcs)
Abercrombie & Fitch* (C-)
Tree of Life (C-)
Arcadia Group (TopShop, Miss Selfridge, Wallis, Dorothy Perkins)(C+)
Just Group (C+)
Levi Strauss & Co.* (C+)
New Balance (C+)
Pretty Girl Fashion Group (Rockmans, BeMe, W. Lane and Table Eight) (C+)
Retail Apparel Group (Tarocash, Rockwear, yd) (C+)
R.M. Williams (C+)
Specialty Fashion Group (Millers, Crossroads, Katies, Autograph, City Chic, Rivers) (C+)
The Gap Inc.* (C+)
D is for Don’t go there
Best & Less* (D-)
Forever 21* (D-)
Fast Future Brands (Temt, Valley Girl) (D+)
Fusion Retail Brands (Fusion, Mathers, Diana Ferrari, Colorado) (D+)
House of Quirky (D+)
L Brands* (Victoria’s Secret) (D+)
Oroton Group (D+)
F is for massive Fail
Pavement United Brands*
Voyager Distributing Co*
How did your favourite clothing brand go? Any surprises here? Will this list affect the way you choose fashion?