Baptist World Aid Australia on Wednesday released their fourth Ethical Fashion Report which reveals the 330 fashion brands failing, or progressing, in mitigating the risk of worker exploitation in their global supply chains.
This year's report highlights major grading disparities between multinational companies such as Zara which received an A grade, versus Australian headquartered Valleygirl and Lowes, which both scored D+ grades. Soberingly, 72 percent of companies which scored at or below a D+ are based in Australia.
Cotton On Group and Kmart have both made great progress since the report's start back in 2013, though findings highlight that more work needs to be done by Australian brands to address key issues including paying workers a living wage.
"Beyond niche ethical producers that consistently score the top grade, multinational companies like Patagonia and Zara are trumping Australian fashion brands," Baptist World Aid Australia Advocacy Manager Gershon Nimbalker said in a media statement.
"There have been a number of Australian companies like Cotton On Group and Kmart that have made significant headway in this area, but 72 percent of companies that scored at or below a D+ are headquartered here."
According to Nimbalker, Australian companies like Valleygirl, TEMT and Lowes can no longer excuse being behind the curve as more multinational brands enter the local market.
Workers being paid a living wage still a concern
Only one company, Mighty Good Undies, could prove they were paying all workers a living wage.
"Asia Pacific is home to more than 40 million fashion industry workers, yet for the vast majority wages remain at levels well below what is needed to lift themselves out of poverty leaving underpaid workers trapped in a cycle of poverty," Nimbalker said.
The proportion of companies looking to improve wages continued to rise from 11 percent in 2013 to 42 percent this year. However, in most cases, wages were still below a living wage level and only applied to a portion of workers.
"Paying workers a living wage is achievable even for high volume, low cost operators, and it could transform the lives of millions while driving economic growth in their communities."
Since 2013, there has been a 30 percent improvement in companies tracing second tier suppliers, while two and a half times more companies (45 percent ) trace raw materials suppliers. In saying that, just 7 percent of companies know where their cotton is coming from.
"It's encouraging to see the improvements being made here but more than half of these brands still haven't started trying to map where their raw materials are coming from. Modern-day slavery is a reality. 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?" Nimbalker said.
The number of companies publishing full supplier lists has risen from 16 percent to 26 percent since last year. APG & Co (owners of Saba, JAG and Sportscraft), Big W and the Cotton On Group are among this group, while increased openness from General Pants, Gorman, Seed Heritage, Factory X, and Brand Collective about their labour rights systems is commendable. Brands who were non-responsive to the report, along with those that do not provide any substantive public information, were indicated in this report by an asterisk next to their name.
"We urge brands to share this information because if they don't disclose these lists or their policies to mitigate worker exploitation, then how do consumers know if a) they know their suppliers and b) they have appropriate policies in place?" Nimbalker said.
This year, Baptist World Aid created an online grading tool so consumers can easily search for their favourite brands and their related grades.
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