Adidas, Reebok and Patagonia were the highest ranking brands in this year’s Fashion Transparency Index, published by non-profit organization Fashion Revolution. They all scored 64 percent of 250 possible points. The three companies are followed by Esprit and H&M, who both scored 61 percent.
This is the first time that any brand gets a score higher than 60 percent in the history of the index -- in 2017, all brands scored under 50 percent -- which goes to show that the fashion industry has been taking significant steps to become more transparent, as conscious consumers grow to expect that from them. In a recent survey of 5,000 consumers across Europe conducted by Fashion Revolution and Ipsos Mori, 80 percent of respondents stated fashion brands should disclose their manufacturers.
“These brands are disclosing a wide range of human rights and environmental policies and commitments as well as information about how responsibility is governed throughout the business, who their suppliers are and some data about the outcomes and impacts of their sustainability practices”, said Fashion Revolution of the top 5 companies.“Transparency is not just sharing the good stories nor disclosing only compliant, well-performing suppliers. It’s about presenting the full picture”, the organization explained.
This year, the index analyzes 200 of the world’s biggest fashion brands and retailers (they all have a turnover of 500 million US dollars and above), up from 150 in 2018. The average score this year was 21 percent, with several brands publishing social and environmental information for the very first time, including Chanel, Desigual, Dior, s.Oliver, and Sandro.
The amount of fashion companies disclosing their suppliers list has increased: 70 out of the 200 brands disclose their first-tier manufacturers, compared to 55 in 2018 and 32 in 2017. But it is much less common for brands to reveal their processing facilities, where ginning and spinning, embroidering, printing, finishing dyeing and laundering take place: only 38 brands do that in 2019, 11 more than in 2018. There’s been a significant increase in the number of companies disclosing their suppliers of raw materials, however. 10 brands do so in 2019, while in 2018 only a single company did.
According to Fashion Revolution, fashion companies still have a long way to go when it comes to disclosing their carbon footprint. Consumers just aren’t getting the whole picture. Although 55 percent of the 200 brands do publish the carbon footprint in the company’s own sites, most of them (79 percent) do not say anything about carbon emissions across their supply chain, where over 50 percent of the industry’s emissions occur, according to sustainability metrics firm Quantis.
Image: Women workers in a garment factory in Cambodia. © 2014 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch; Source: Human Rights Watch website, Creative Commons license.
Considering the amount of “empowering” collections we’ve seen in celebration of International Women’s Day, one could assume fashion brands and retailers to be just as vocal about the steps they take to increase gender equality in their facilities and across the supply chain.
Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Of the 200 brands analyzed this year, only 37.5 percent declare to be involved in projects focused on female empowerment, down from 40 percent last year. While 37 percent of labels do publish policies on equal pay, only 33 percent reveal the actual gender gap within their company. What’s more, less than 2 percent of brands publish data concerning the occurrence of gender-based labor violations in suppliers’ facilities.
“Considering the fashion industry employs millions of women, brands ought to share far more information about how they are addressing gender equality”, says Fashion Revolution in the report. The organization estimates 70-80 percent of all people working in the fashion industry, from the factory to the shop floor, to be female.
Lately, it seems like most major fashion labels are launching products containing recycled plastic bottles: Adidas, Puma, Everlane, Kate Hudson, C&A… The list of brands goes on an on. Usually, these collections are followed by a pledge to increase the use of sustainable materials like recycled polyester, organic cotton and lyocell. While this change is to celebrated, Fashion Revolution’s report demonstrates there’s still a long road to full transparency when it comes to the materials used: although 43 percent of the companies verified are publishing a strategy or roadmap for the use of sustainable materials, only 29 percent of them disclose the percentage of sustainable materials used in each product.
Human rights and fair living wage
All in all, human rights and a fair living wage don’t seem to be deemed as important as environmental issues by fashion brands: while 54 percent of the companies analyzed by Fashion Revolution publish a list of goals to improve their environmental impact, only 40 percent do the same for human rights.
Buyers’ mounting pressure for low prices is a significant factor behind the absence of a fair living wage for garment factory workers in countries like Turkey, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh. According to the 2019 Fashion Transparency Index, only 3 percent of the fashion brands analyzed disclose a method for isolating and calculating labor costs in their price negotiation process with suppliers.
Pictures: Adidas Facebook, courtesy of H&M, Pexels, Everlane Facebook, courtesy of the Clean Clothes Campaign.