Ethical fashion: Whose sweat are you wearing?


Photo by Nicolas Boullosa

Ethical Fashion (CC BY 2.0)

Bridget Turner, Reporter

Do you know how your clothes are produced? What kinds of working conditions the people who make your clothes experience? Are the materials ethically sourced? If you drew a blank at these questions you are not alone.

Baptist World Aid Australia recently released its annual Ethical Fashion Report. It is the company’s sixth consecutive report and 130 companies participated this year. The report gives grades of A+ to F in a grading system based on the strength of the companies’ systems to mitigate against the risks of forced labour, child labour and exploitation in their supply chains.

According to Belinda Hennessey, the media contact for Baptist World Aid Australia: “For a brand to be eligible for the report they must fit into the three criteria; profile and size, (meaning they must generate revenue of $1 million or greater), evidence of best practice and supporter interest.”

When questioned about brand improvement from the previous years, Hennessey revealed that there has been an improvement in 30% of the brands since 2018. However, some brands have gone downhill, Hennessey attributes this to updates in the questionnaire process, as they must continue to meet the more stringent requirements as the industry evolves.

So, how exactly does this grading system work?

Well, according to the report itself, participating companies are asked to provide information on 44 specific criteria across five key themes at three critical stages of the supply chain.

The five key themes are:

  • Policies
  • Transparency and trace-ability
  • Auditing and supplier relationships
  • Worker empowerment (and living wage)
  • Environmental management

The three critical stages are:

  • Raw materials
  • Inputs production
  • Final stage production

With this grading system in place, it makes it nearly impossible for participating companies to hide any wrongdoing.

How did some of the better known companies do?

  • Adidas = A
  • Bonds = A
  • Cotton On group = A-
  • H&M = B+
  • Kmart = B+
  • ASOS = B
  • ALDI = B-
  • Top Shop = C+
  • Boohoo = C-
  • Coles = D+
  • Valley Girl = D
  • Forever 21 = D-
  • Ally Fashion = F
  • Showpo = F
  • Wish = F

If you would like to look at the complete list you can head to Baptist World Aid Australia, where you can also download a full copy of the report.

I reached out to Ally Fashion and Cotton On who were at different ends of the grading and both declined to comment.

Another brand that refused to comment was Valley Girl, which is part of the Fast Future Brands company. As mentioned above they received a D grade. However, on the Valley Girl website, the brand states “we are committed to ensuring a sustainable future through the provision of safe and ethical products for our consumers”. Well, isn’t that contradictory to the grade they received?

Their website continues to explain their ‘ethical’ practices, in detail, which highlights the need for an annual Ethical Fashion Report that can cut through the spin. It may be the only way to hold these companies to account.

So what did the findings of the report show overall?

In regards to transparency and trace-ability, there was an increase in every stage of the supply chain.

In comparison to last year’s statistics, 14% more companies have a comprehensive Manufacturing Restrictive Substance list which protects the workers from being exposed to harmful chemicals.

Worker empowerment was unfortunately the poorest graded section receiving a median grade of D.  However, some advancements are slowly being made regarding gender equality and child labour. Living wages was also not a strong point, but again small advancements are being made.

If you take anything from the Ethical Fashion Report let it be that we, as a society, should be more aware of how our clothing items are being produced. It also couldn’t hurt to take a stand for what is right. So perhaps take a minute or two to see how your favourite brands stack up.