Baptist World Aid has today released the sixth edition of its annual ethical fashion report, naming and shaming a host of well-known Australian retailers, big and small.
More than 130 apparel companies contributed to the report this year, submitting themselves for grading between A and F on the systems and strategies they have in place to ethically manage their supply chains.
Household names such as Cotton On, Country Road and Kookai all managed top grades, but underneath are a host of smaller businesses such as Showpo, P.E. Nation and Rebecca Vallance, who chose not to participate and were slapped with an F.
While niche brands have been some of the best performers in the report since its inception, some said they felt the survey was limited for SMEs.
“Limitations for small, boutique fashion businesses”
Boutique operator Kate Sylvester opted not to participate, telling the non-governmental organisation the industry-wide survey isn’t suited to small businesses.
“We are deeply committed to social and environmental responsibility and commend Tearfund and Baptist World Aid on what is a valuable report for the fashion industry,” the business said.
“We feel it has limitations for small, boutique fashion businesses.”
Similarly, small apparel brand Barkers, also given an F for not participating, said it has nevertheless been undertaking a “strategic reposition” of its sourcing practices.
“Due to our small team and limited resources, this year we decided not to participate in the Ethical Fashion Survey but instead chose to put our energies and focus into making some real change in the development and sourcing of our product,” the business said.
There were plenty of other smaller firms that participated in the report though and received what Baptist World Aid chief executive John Hickey said are “encouraging” grades.
“We’re seeing a general shift in the industry and that includes smaller companies,” Hickey tells SmartCompany.
“It really comes down to the business models that the companies adopt, how attentive they are to the trends that consumers are talking about.”
“We understand the challenges smaller companies have, but we also feel that doesn’t really create an excuse,” Hickey says.
Small business AS Colour was highlighted by Baptist World Aid for best practice purchasing policies, including regular factory visits and open supplier dialogue.
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“Whilst many supplier challenges at times seem daunting (or outside the scope of influence) for a relatively small business such as ours, the fact remains that their problems ultimately impact on our workers and our production,” the company said.
P.E. Nation did not say why it didn’t participate in the report, but revealed it’s currently developing “ethical and social compliance programmes.”
“The grade given by Baptist world for not-responding is not indicative of our commitment and the practices that we are undertaking and does not give a true and responsible representation of the journey we have begun,” a spokesperson for the business said.
Showpo founder chief executive Jane Lu said her business is aiming to reach full transparency within its supply chain by next year.
“We know how important transparency in our supply chain is and we’re really focused on getting this right. We chose not to participate in the Ethical Fashion Guide this year because our team has been focused on working closely with our supply chain internally,” she said in a statement.
Living wage still an issue
Over a third (38%) of companies improved their overall grade in 2019, although employment conditions throughout global apparel supply chains remain a key issue.
Only 5% of companies surveyed were able to demonstrate they’re paying a living wage to all workers at their final stage of production.
Hickey says the average grade for workers rights and empowerment is still a D, while environmental grading scored a median C+.
“There’s still a long way to go,” he says.
The full report can be accessed here.