New Zealand fashion brands have become better at ensuring that the makers of their clothes are not exploiting workers, according to the latest Ethical Fashion Report.
The report grades 330 major global and domestic fashion brands and 106 apparel companies from A to F on their policies, supplier traceability and transparency, auditing practices and worker empowerment.
The New Zealand brands scored a median grade of B-, beating the international average of C+.
The Ethical Fashion Report was commissioned by Baptist World Aid Australia who partnered with international NGO, Tearfund, includes 12 New Zealand brands.
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New Zealand’s top performers, Kowtow and Liminal Apparel, scored A’s, while Farmer’s refusal to engage with the report and lack of publicly available information landed it an F-rating.
Glassons has continued to improve to a B- from a C+ last year and a D- in 2015.
In the past year the number of companies publishing full supplier lists has risen to 26 per cent, compared to 16 per cent last year.
Karen Walker was the most improved New Zealand brand raising last year’s score of a C to a B+ this year.
Tearfund’s Education and Advocacy Coordinator Claire Hart said this was “really above average” and due to the company’s efforts over the last year to better trace their supply chain.
“In some cases they actually know who made the silk they use and where it comes from,” said Hart.
Brands and retailers, like Farmers and The Warehouse that refused to engage with the research were marked by an asterix in the report.
The Warehouse said in a statement it did not participate because it felt the comparative ranking was “potentially misleading for customers” and that the corporate social responsibility rating system should not be taken as an equivalent to “actual working conditions”.
Farmers did not respond to requests for comment.
Karen Walker said her company had put more resources into testing its systems around manufacturing and sourcing over the past 18 months.
She said most businesses that think they are being 100 per cent ethical would not be able to account for, “every worker or every single fabric, button, zip and trim from every supplier they use” even if it was manufactured on-shore.
Hart said the trend of “fast fashion” meant more contractors were outsourcing to subcontractors without brand awareness.
Because brands often do not own their production facility, they have to use their leverage with their suppliers to in turn get their suppliers to treat workers in an appropriate way, Hart said.
The report found 42 per cent of companies were investing in paying fairer wages to employees, but Hart said was the hardest area to get traction in.
Worker empowerment remained the lowest scoring area, with a median grade of D+ in the report.
Tearfund education and advocacy Manager Murray Sheard visited Southern India to see some of the conditions garment workers were exposed to.
Sheard said women he talked to were often promised a 3-year lump sum payment in addition to their wages that they planned to use as a dowry.
After they work for three years, the women were often cheated out of the payment by the companies, Sheard said.
Women in the garment mills often worked 12 to 16 hours a day, in hot and dangerous conditions and suffered respiratory complaints from breathing in the cotton that they were weaving into sheets and abdominal pains from the heat, Sheard said.
“The rate of infertility has gone up among girls who work in the mills due to the conditions, which is a massive betrayal when you’ve been sold the job on the idea of marriage and family, which is hugely important in Hindu culture.”
Sheard said more companies needed to get on board with paying a living wage, especially as the additional cost to ensure workers can meet basic needs could be as little as 36 cents per T-shirt.
The number of companies tracing the full extent of their supply chain continues to be a small figure.
The report found 7 per cent of companies knew where their cotton was coming from, but 45 per cent were now seeking to trace their cotton suppliers.
Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) helps companies trace raw materials and works with farmers to increase yield.
Kathmandu worked with BCI and Fairtrade Cotton to trace 80 per cent of its cotton supply. Kathmandu received an overall grade of B+.
The ethical fashion report was first released by Baptist World Aid Australia in 2013 as a response to the Rana Plaza collapse that killed 1134 garment workers.
How do they rate:
The Warehouse: C
Forever New: B
Fustion Retail Brands: C-
Cotton On Group: A-
Karen Walker: B+
Liminal Apparel: A