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Brazil Retailers Lagging Behind on Supply-Chain Transparency

Twenty of the largest clothing retailers in Brazil rated poorly enough on a new social and environmental benchmark that nearly half of them scored a resounding zero percent in terms of transparency, according to Fashion Revolution, a grassroots movement that seeks to make the apparel industry a more equitable one.

The Fashion Transparency Index Brazil, the first national study by the organization, was conducted by its Brazilian and global arms in partnership with the Centre for Sustainability Studies at Getulio Vargas Foundation. The Brazilian Textile Retail Association provided institutional support and the C&A Foundation delivered the funding. 

Brazilian retailers such as Cia Marítima, Melissa, Olympikus and Pernambucanas chalked up an average of 17 percent in the report, though Malwee had the strongest showing of the domestic firms at 51 percent. Belgian-based retailer C&A pulled into overall first place with a score of 53 percent, trailed by Spain’s Zara at a middling 40 percent and flip-flop maker Havaianas at 36 percent. Osklen, a self-styled eco-friendly luxury label that was among Brazil’s first companies to neutralize their carbon footprints, registered a wobbly 34 percent.

Still, a low grade doesn’t necessarily translate into weak values or practices, stressed Eloisa Artuso, project manager and director of education at Fashion Revolution Brazil. Even the eight brands that scored zero percent might just need to communicate their policies better. 

“Information about supply chains is often hidden on websites, or hosted on external websites that are difficult to find, in annual reports of more than 300 pages or simply not available,” Artuso said in a statement. “How can we make better decisions about what we buy, when information is either totally absent or presented in such varied and long-winded ways?”

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Brazil was of interest to Fashion Revolution for a few reasons: Not only is the country Latin America’s largest economy but it’s also the world’s fourth-largest apparel producer, the report noted. With more than 1.5 million direct employees, 75 percent of whom are women, Brazil is the Western world’s largest complete textile chain, “spanning from production of fibers, such as cotton, to spinning, weaving, finishing, manufacturing processes and retail, to the catwalks,” the report’s authors wrote. Plus, slave labor continues to be rife in its supply chain.

Investigators crunched their numbers based on publicly disclosed information, along with any responses they received from a 200-item questionnaire. Only 60 percent of the brands completed and returned the questionnaire, they said. Forty percent “did not respond or declined the opportunity to complete the questionnaire.”

Of the brands the report highlighted, four—C&A, Casas Pernambucanas, Renner and Zara—appeared previously in Fashion Revolution’s 2017 Global Fashion Transparency Index. These, the organization said, showed an average 38 percent year-on-year improvement, suggesting the indexes are encouraging businesses to publish more information about their social and environmental efforts.

The Brazil report shares a few parallels with its international counterpart, investigators said. Brands and retailers, as a whole, dedicate more “time and space” to their values and beliefs and less to tangible practices and measurable impacts.

“For example, 12 brands and retailers scored higher for human rights, anti-discrimination, and forced or child-labor policies, whereas only seven scored in the area of traceability,” they explained.

On the environmental front, only two brands disclosed policies relating to carbon emissions and energy reduction. Three stated their positions on biodiversity, six on water-effluent treatment and six on waste management and recycling.

Artuso says she hopes the index will be a widely downloaded, useful tool for all, though she’s less concerned about which brands outscored which than she is the broadening arc of transparency in the apparel industry.  

“We want to emphasize that the reader should uses the findings of the index to reflect on general trends of transparency and disclosure patterns, rather than focusing on which brand scored highest,” she said.