Compliance is at the core of some of the world’s top apparel brands.
And some brands, like Zara and Adidas, are leading the pack with their ethical fashion initiatives, according to Baptist World Aid Australia’s 2017 Ethical Fashion Report.
After the Rana Plaza factory tragedy in 2013, Baptist World Aid started benchmarking the efforts of fashion companies to ensure that worker’s rights, including fair wages and a safe working environment, take top priority in their supply chains. Even though labor laws have improved over the past four years, the report revealed that garment workers are still subjected to unfair treatment.
Baptist World Aid evaluated 106 apparel companies, grading them on their ethics across four categories—policies, supplier knowledge, auditing & supplier relationships and worker empowerment, and using an A+ to F grading scale. Across all brands evaluated, the median grade was a C+ and just 13 brands received A range grades. What’s more, the average grade achieved for worker empowerment was a D+, indicating that much work still needs to be done to reach a higher level of ethics in the apparel industry.
Adidas and Zara both earned A’s for their supply chain transparency and compliance efforts.
Inditex, the parent company of Zara, was recognized for strongly tracing its second tier suppliers back to fabric production. The company earned a 100 percent rating for final manufacturing and traceability monitoring in the report, which was a higher score than other apparel brands had. Inditex currently provides information about where its suppliers are located worldwide, but does not disclose who those specific suppliers are. In addition to facilitating an open supply chain, Inditex is also a member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which enforces eco-friendly and ethical cotton production worldwide.
Adidas also earned an A grade for its policies, supplier knowledge and auditing communications. Adidas recently completed a risk-based assessment of its supply chain and noted potential modern slavery risks. Based on its findings, the company developed the Modern Slavery Outreach Programme, a strategy that will roll out training at supplier factories to help eliminate trafficking, engage in multi-stakeholder initiatives, including the Fair Labor Association (FLA), and address risks related to cotton farming in countries affected by the Syrian refugee crisis, like Turkey. As a BCI member as well, Adidas aims to use entirely organic and recycled cotton in its supply chain by next year.
Other brands, however, earned grades they wouldn’t want to write home about. Both Abercrombie & Fitch and L Brand received a D+ grade for their ethical practices.
Although Abercrombie & Fitch and L Brands scored well (B and B-) for their policies, both brands ranked considerably low for supplier knowledge, auditing and supplier relationships, and worker empowerment. Both companies, according to the report, need to improve in tracking suppliers’ use of contract workers and providing transparency about the suppliers they use. For worker empowerment, Abercrombie and Fitch ranked D- due to the lack of democratically elected unions at facilities, while L Brands earned an F for not training workers on their rights.
Despite some brands not making the cut for ethical practices, the report did point out some progress. Fifty-nine percent of the brands assessed in 2016 improved their grade in the 2017 report, while 42 percent of companies are investing in paying fair wages to their garment workers. Additionally, the percentage of brands tracking the presence of trade unions in the majority of their factories has doubled since last year.