London - Change towards a more sustainable future may be slow within the fashion industry, but the leading companies, such as Adidas, H&M, and Esprit have taken steps to become more transparent over the past year. According to Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index 2018, which reviews and track 150 major fashion companies based on their social and environmental policies, these brands are paving the way towards greater transparency within the fashion industry. However, data shows that there are still too many large brands, as well as smaller players, who chose to disclose little to nothing about their social and environmental practices.
But why is the need for transparency in the fashion industry so high? When the Rana Plaza building collapsed five years ago in Bangladesh, killing thousands of garment workers, people had to dig through the rubble to identify which brands had been producing at the five factories there. In some instances, it took weeks for retailers to figure out why their labels were found among the ruins in the first place and which purchasing deals they made with those suppliers. At the end of the day, many apparel brands did not even know their products were being made in those factories - highlighting the fragmentation in the supply chain which can obscure accountability. As the vast number of fashion retailers do not own their own manufacturing facilities, which it makes it even more difficult to monitor conditions across the global supply chain.
Adidas, Reebok and Puma among the most transparent Fashion Brands
Which is why Fashion Revolution has been tracking leading global brands and benchmarked their performance on five key areas: policy and commitments, governance, traceability, know how and fix, and spotlight issues - to shine a light on the responsibility companies hold to ensuring safe and secure working conditions. Adidas and Reebok scored the highest in the Fashion Transparency Index 2018, achieving a transparency score of 58 percent in total. These brands were followed by Puma, H&M, Esprit, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, C&A and Marks & Spencer, who all scored within 51 percent to 60 percent out of a possible 250 points.
Asos came closely after the top ten, having significantly increased its level of factory disclosure since 2017. The British e-tailer was followed by denim giant Levi Strauss and then The North Face, Timberland, Vans, Wrangler (all owned by VF Corporation), G-Star Raw, Tchibo and Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius and Zara (all owned by Inditex), all scoring in the 41 to 50 percent range. This year sees the Fashion Transparency Index review 150 fashion brands, up from 100 brands covered in 2017. The original brands which were reviewed in 2017 have been reviewed again in 2018 to see if they have changed their practices and become more transparent.
In a survey of over 10,000 consumers from around the world, 78 per cent said it is somewhat or very important for a company to be transparent
Overall fashion brands show a 5 percent improvement in transparency levels across each area of the Index’s methodology, which underlines how the Index, as well as other movements and initiatives, are encouraging brands to become more transparent. The three fashion brands which improved their levels of disclosure over the last year are The North Face, Timberland, and Wrangler who increased their transparency by 22 percent overall. An increasing number of brands, including Primark and Asos, publicly shared their factory suppliers were their products are cut, sewn and finished, up from 12.5 percent two years ago to 37 percent in 2018, representing one of the most significant and positive boosts in transparency. More brands also published a list of their processing facilities, 18 percent in 2018 up from 14 percent in 2017.
Another shift noticed by the Fashion Transparency Index sees luxury brands become more open with their social and environmental policies and practices. Although most luxury fashion houses tend to be less public with their policies and suppliers in comparison to major retailers, this is starting to change. Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, YSL and Burberry all scored in the 31 to 40 percent range, with Hugo Boss increasing its score by 11 percent, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger increasing their score by 9 percent, Gucci, Bottega Veneta and YSL increasing their score by 8 percent and Burberry increasing its score by 7 percent this year. Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger published a list of their Tier 1 suppliers, whilst Hermès discloses its tier 1 suppliers as well as fabric suppliers and processing facilities.
“Over the last five years, millions of consumers have demanded a fairer, safer, cleaner industry. It’s working. We can see that brands are listening and the industry is starting to change,” said Carry Somers, Fashion Revolution Global Operations Director and Founder. “We’re calling upon the global fashion industry to turn its commitment to responsible sourcing into effective action this Fashion Revolution Week. Too many people working in the fashion industry, mostly women, are still underpaid, unsafe and mistreated. It’s time for a change.”
Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein and Gucci become more Transparent in 2018
However, despite this shift towards greater transparency, much more work has to be done in order to change the way fashion is made. At the moment the current model of how fashion is made, sources and consumed continues to cause much suffering and environmental damage and Fashion Revolution strongly believes this needs to change in order to mark the first big step towards greater transparency. Clear disclosure makes it easier for brands, suppliers, workers, trade unions and NGOs to pinpoint where certain issues may occur in terms of human rights and environmental abuses, find who is responsible and a solution. But in the five years since Rana Plaza, it is clear that most companies are still broadly operating in the same way in which the disaster occurred.
Only 55 percent of retailers and brands published measurable, time-bound goals on improving environmental impacts, whilst only 37 percent published goals on improving human rights. A mere 12 percent disclose how company employees’ incentives are tied to improvements in human rights and environmental management. There has been a notable increase in the number of brands and retailers that publish 'anti-bribery and corruption' policies both for the companies’ workforce and for their suppliers. 62 percent of brands are disclosing their process for fixing problems when violations are found in a supplier facility.
64 percent of brands have disclosed more policies and commitments than they did last year
“I still find it incredible to fathom the success of Fashion Revolution, and harder still to assess its true impact,” said Orsola de Castro, Fashion Revolution Creative Director and Founder. “So much has happened over the past five years, and everybody is so much more aware of the fashion industry’s effect on its supply chain and our environment, about the need for transparency and for a more intelligent approach to both consumption and production. We know we have had a direct effect in deepening all these conversations, with our fanzines which are both sold out (and the second was read 15.000 on Isuu in just a few months), with our Fashion Transparency Index (downloaded over 30.000 times) and with our social media impact which is huge.”
“As we enter our 5th year of campaigning, we are asking that more and more people keep asking #whomademyclothes.”
Photos: Courtesy of Fashion Revolution. Credit: Alastair Strong, Fashion Revolution 2018 Campaign