Many fashion houses are making improvements on issues such as gender equality but areas such as traceability remain a problem, according to a new study of 130 clothing companies representing almost 500 brands.
The 2019 Ethical Fashion report, released last week by international aid and development charity Baptist World Aid Australia, hands out A to F grades based on slavery, child labour, exploitation, transparency, and environmental degradation in fashion brands’ supply chains.
It found that there have been substantial increases in the number of companies creating gender equality guides, responsible purchasing practices, child forced labour remediation plans and hazardous substance policies.
Over the past year some 61% of companies - a rise of 22% on the previous year - have created policies addressing gender inequality in their supply chain.
Almost half (45%) of firms have introduced policies addressing responsible purchasing practices to improve working conditions.
And more than one in three (35%) companies, have robust remediation plans to redress child or forced labour if it is found in their supply chain, an increase of 17% on the previous year.
Some 35% of companies, a rise of 14% on the previous year, have a comprehensive Manufacturing Restrictive Substance List to ensure workers are not exposed to hazardous chemicals.
And almost four in ten (38%) of companies improved their overall grade on that from 2017, according to the report.
Kookai, Country Road and Cotton On were among the brands to have improved their standing.
Forever 21, Bec and Bridge, Camilla and Marc, Showpo, Millers and Noni B were among the Australian fashion labels to be singled out as having poor ethical performance.
“The global fashion industry remains a significant employer. It also spurs economic growth, generates tax revenue, provides valuable skills and training, and delivers crucial foreign exchange,” the report said.
But it warned that the “fashion industry is a source of exploitation for millions” and that “serious concerns remain that need addressing.”
Traceability remains a significant challenge across the industry.
While 69% of companies could trace all final stage suppliers, only 18% have traced all inputs suppliers and just 8% have traced all raw material suppliers.
“Although the majority of companies have begun tracing suppliers at these deeper stages of their supply chain, it is evident that many still have no knowledge of where their inputs and raw materials are being sourced,” the report said.
Another concern is that 95% of brands failed to pay a living wage to all workers at their final stage of production, and only 8% of companies demonstrated the presence of trade unions or collective bargaining agreements in all of their factories.
Several companies had no publicly available information regarding their ethical sourcing and declined to engage with the research process, and so received F grades in the report.