Retailers praised for transparency but Ethical Fashion Report 2017 highlights room for improvement

http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/fashion/retailers-praised-for-transparency-but-ethical-fashion-report-2017-highlights-room-for-improvement/news-story/7c9f018c18000c451beaa6a2142fcbf8

IT’S a small price to pay for fashion. Just 40 cents.

That is the extra amount consumers would have to pay to help ensure the people who made their clothes are paid a fair and sustainable living wage.

That’s according to Baptist World Aid which has today released the2017 Ethical Fashion Report, providing a revealing insight into how Aussie companies operate, especially in regards to their supply chains in the developing world.

The annual Baptist World Aid annual report card grades 106 apparel companies that sell their products in Australia, comprising 330 brands, from A to F.

Alarmingly the report found only three of the 15 brands that scored an A or higher were headquartered in Australia, and they were all niche ethical producers.

Baptist World Aid Australia Advocacy Manager Gershon Nimbalker said the report showed consumers could no longer ignore how some products were made so cheaply.

But he said paying as little as 40 cents extra for a shirt could make a huge difference to many workers in the developed world who lived below the poverty line.

“The argument consumers want cheap products just doesn’t hold true anymore,” he told news.com.au.

“Research has shown most consumers are happy to pay more if it means people are being paid a fair wage.

“And 40 cents doesn’t make a huge dent on consumers’ or companies’ profit margins but it does help keep people above the poverty line.”

Mr Nimbalker said the report revealed significant progress had been made in ethical sourcing and paying workers across the supply chain fair wages, but there was always room for improvement.

In 2013, only 11 per cent of companies were investing towards better wages, but the 2017 results showed 42 per cent were heading in the right direction, he said.

‘WE ARE TRAILING’

The report found most of Australia’s major fashion brands continue to trail their multinational counterparts when it comes to workers’ rights and transparency in global supply chains.

The report showed that some outfits such as Cotton On Group and Kmart have made progress, but nearly three-quarters of the companies that scored a D+ or worse are headquartered in Australia.

The research showed steady progress towards paying workers a living wage to cover the basics such as food, water and clothing.

Multinationals such as Patagonia and Zara were applauded for their practices with both scoring an A grade.

Australian headquartered Valleygirl, TEMT and Lowes scored a D+ while Ally, Betts and Roger David score an F for being non-responsive to the research and demonstrating no transparency.

And only one company, Mighty Good Undies, could prove it paid all workers a living wage.

The report also showed more than three-quarters of the companies traced their manufacturing suppliers in the final stage of supply, but Mr Nimbalker said the risk of worker exploitation remained deeper into the chain.

“If companies don’t know or don’t care who their suppliers are, there’s virtually no way for them to ensure workers’ rights are being upheld throughout their supply chains,” he said.

“We think it’s critical that they know all their suppliers.”

Only seven per cent of companies knew where their cotton was coming from. Many companies, including Big W, Cotton On Group, Esprit, Jeanswest and RM Williams, have begun publishing full supplier lists.

Twenty-six per cent of businesses now make that information available, up from 16 per cent in 2016.

Mr Nimbalker said companies were acknowledging they had to be transparent to build trust with the public.

“We really want them (consumers) to vote with their wallets and preference those companies that are doing more to ensure workers are protected,” he said.

BUSINESS ‘OPPORTUNITY’

Hannah Parris, Founder of Mighty Good Undies, told news.com.au she believed the rise of the conscious consumer generated an exciting business opportunity and was something bigger brands were overlooking.

“People are beginning to really grasp our fashion footprint and are asking questions of the big brands,” she said.

“Our customers are by nature curious and probing when it comes to our supply chain and our manufacturing standards. They love our transparency about the what, why and how we do things.”

Mr Parris said consumers have become savvy about what they purchased and Mighty Good Undies was designed with those people in mind.

She also said other fashion giants could take a leaf out of their book.

“It’s not just about selling product, and it’s not just about taking care of one part of one aspect of the supply chain,” she said,

“It’s about a holistic approach and looking at the environmental and social impacts of their brand.”

‘GETTING IT RIGHT’

Teacher and fashion blogger Hannah Pho, 24, said she changed her shopping habits after reading the first Ethical Fashion Report four years ago.

“The report made me more aware about the entire process and life cycle that each piece of clothing goes through, and it emphasised the fact that there are still so many steps that we need to get right,” she said.

“Often we focus on the final stage of production (cut-make-trim), but then forget to prioritise evaluating the other social, environmental, economic, and political impacts that the fashion industry, and our consumption has on the world.”

Ms Pho started Kingdom as a platform to show how to implement social justice into every area of life, but admitted changing her habits to become more conscious was hard at first.

She said she keeps the blog going as a reminder to keep living intentionally, consciously, and meaningfully.

with AAP

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