Fashion Continues Unbridled ‘Lip Service’ to Sustainability, Per Fashion Revolution’s Latest Index

·4 min read

Fashion Revolution’s latest report released Thursday shows fashion is ill-concerned with measurable progress on hot-button sustainability issues.

Now in its seventh edition, the Fashion Transparency Index is an annual report ranking 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers based on publicly available data across human rights and environmental issues. Since November, Fashion Revolution has been conducting its research for this year’s report, including engagement and outreach to scoring brands. The Laudes Foundation is among the funding partners.

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According to the report, topline sustainability issues like overproduction, supply chain transparency and living wage data are continually falling by the wayside. Brands represent a cross-section of the industry and are ranked between 0 to 100 percent (higher being better), according to their disclosure on a 246-deep questionnaire. The questionnaire covers a wide range of social and environmental topics, including animal welfare, chemical and water management, climate, forced labor, living wages, purchasing practices, supplier disclosure and waste.

Brands achieved an average score of just 24 percent, with nearly a third of brands scoring less than 10 percent.

Among the best-performers by Fashion Revolution’s counts were Italian brand OVS, which scored highest again this year with 78 percent, tied with Kmart Australia and Target Australia. H&M, The North Face and Timberland followed suit, tied at 66 percent. A notable mover and shaker this year was Dutch clothing chain Zeeman for going above and beyond on its due diligence-aligned supplier code of conduct.

On the bottom rung of placement, 17 major brands scored a dismal 0 percent, among them Jil Sander, Fashion Nova, Max Mara, Tom Ford and Elie Tahari. Findings were not prescriptive to each brand but noted a lack of public disclosure on governance, policies and more.

Climate, supplier due diligence and forced labor indicators were among the telling pain points affecting the overall scores.

Despite the urgency of the climate crisis, less than one-third of major brands disclose a decarbonization target covering their entire supply chain, which is verified by the common corporate safeguard the Science-Based Targets Initiative. Only 11 percent of brands publish their supplier wastewater test results, despite the textile industry being a leading contributor to water pollution. And the majority of brands, or 85 percent, do not disclose their annual production volumes despite mounting clothing waste. Most major brands and retailers, or 96 percent, do not publish the number of workers in their supply chain who are paid a living wage.

Finding it tough to steer toward any one dominant insight, Liv Simpliciano, Fashion Revolution’s policy and research manager and report research lead, stressed in a phone conversation with WWD: “They’re all interrelated and all have nuance…What surprised me the most was 125 out of 250 brands’ overall score is between 0 and 5 percent. I think it’s really stark that we have such little disclosure.”

Homing in on a few outliers, she said purchasing practices are in an “abysmal” state of affairs with only 11 percent of brands abiding by a recommended purchasing code of conduct that defines 60-day payment terms. Payment terms affect the ability of manufacturers and workers to get paid in a timely manner. 

Simpliciano also called attention to how this year’s report includes new indicators of modern slavery. Forced labor became an area of scrutiny amid tainted cotton from Xinjiang and ongoing investigations into U.K. fast fashion retailers.

Guidelines like the Employer Pays Principle, which instructs companies on responsible recruitment (as fashion is an industry of allure to migrant workers who are recruited by factories and may face few entry-level alternatives if undocumented) and to pay the full costs of recruitment, underpin Fashion Revolution’s recommendations and methodology. “I think it’s also important to remember that indebted workers are less likely to bargain for better pay because they’re already in an exploited and vulnerable position,” Simpliciano said.

Fashion Revolution believes that after transparency comes great scrutiny, accountability and finally — change.

Simpliciano said she expects a fashion transparency “reckoning” in the near future, given the controversy around leading tools. The nonprofit will be part of an upcoming initiative called “Good Clothes, Fair Pay” which launches July 19 in an aim to garner awareness — and signatures — for living wage legislation in the EU. Fashion Revolution also runs public campaigns such as its infamous “Who Made My Clothes?”

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