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Fashion’s progress on transparency still “too slow”  

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Image: Unsplash by Jordan Nix

Fashion Revolution has released its 2021 Fashion Transparency Index and states that transparency in the fashion supply chain is still “too slow” among 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands.

The Index from the global fashion activism movement, now in its sixth year, analysed and ranked 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers based on their public disclosure of human rights and environmental policies, practices, and impacts in their operations and supply chains.

Italian brand OVS tops the global benchmark on transparency with a score of 78 percent, an increase of 44 percent from 2020, replacing Swedish fashion giant H&M, which came second with 68 percent, followed by Timberland and The North Face at 66 percent, and C&A and Vans at 65 percent.
 Other brands scoring above 55 percent include Gildan, Esprit and United Colors of Benetton, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Van Heusen, Gucci, Target Australia, Kmart Australia and Patagonia.  

There wasn’t a single British brand or retailer within the top 10 brands in the Index this year, even though the UK consumes the most clothes in Europe, with Fashion Revolution adding that British brands are “falling behind” their European counterparts in terms of transparency. 

Speedo, which has headquarters in Nottingham, is the highest-scoring British brand at 53 percent, an increase of 19 points from last year. The swimwear brand was followed by Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer at 48 percent, and Asos with 47 percent. 

20 brands and retailers scored 0 percent on Fashion Transparency Index 2021

While Fashion Revolution states that it is encouraged by increasing transparency among the leading brands it also believes progress is too slow on key issues such as purchasing practices, living wages, overproduction, water use, and carbon emissions in the supply chain. No brand scored above 80 percent of the 250 possible points.

The ranking also revealed that 20 major brands score a 0 percent rating including, Belle, Big Bazaar, Billabong, Celio, Elie Tahari, Fashion Nova, Heilan Home, Jessica Simpson, Koovs, Max Mara, Metersbonwe, Mexx, New Yorker, Quiksilver, Pepe Jeans, Roxy, Semir, Tom Ford, Tory Burch and Youngor. 

Several big brands also fell in the rankings, with Wrangler declining by 24 percentage points from 2020 to 2021, Adidas and Reebok were down by 15 percent and Marks and Spencer by 12 percent.

When it came to increases in the right direction, following OVS as the biggest increase from 2020 by 44 percent, footwear brand Ugg jumped up 37 percent, while Tom Tailor increased by 24 percent.

Major fashion brands still disclose “very little” on environmental data, according to Fashion Revolution

Overall, Fashion Revolution said that the Index is making an impact in the fashion industry, as this year’s report did find that more big brands than ever before, almost half (47 percent), are disclosing their first-tier manufacturers, up from 13 percent since the first edition of the Fashion Transparency Index in 2016. 

Eleven percent of fashion brands disclosed information about some of their raw material suppliers, up from 7 percent in 2020 and 0 percent in 2016. Also, more than a quarter (27 percent) revealed some of their processing facilities, such as spinning mills, dye-houses and laundries, up from 24 percent last year.

However, major fashion brands disclose very “little information about their efforts to address overproduction, plastic use, and waste despite the urgency of the climate crisis,” adds Fashion Revolution. Just 14 percent of brands disclose the overall quantity of products made annually, making it difficult to understand the scale of overproduction globally, despite the urgency of the climate crisis. 

Image: Unsplash by Markus Winkler

The Index reveals that almost one-third of major brands (32 percent) describe having permanent clothing take-back schemes in place, yet only 22 percent disclose what happens to the clothes received through these schemes, which typically involves unwanted clothing being resold overseas rather than recycled into new textiles and clothing. 

More than one-third of big brands (36 percent) have also published their progress towards reducing the use of virgin plastics for packaging, but only 18 percent do so for textiles deriving from virgin fossil fuels, which consumers are less likely to recognise as plastic. 

Fashion Revolution global policy director and report author Sarah Ditty said in a statement: “This year’s Fashion Transparency Index shows encouraging signs that some progress is being made on transparency, but there is a lot more that big brands need to be doing in this area.

“The world’s largest brands and retailers disclose very little about their efforts to address important topics such as poor purchasing practices, living wages, racial and gender equality, overproduction and waste, water use and carbon emissions in the supply chain.

“Big brands can and should do more to publicly address their social and environmental impacts.”

Fashion Revolution calls for major fashion brands to disclose living wage results

Fashion Revolution is calling for major fashion brands to be transparent about its living wage roadmap and results, as currently, 99 percent do not disclose how many of their workers are being paid a living wage, while 96 percent do not publish a roadmap on how they plan to achieve a living wage for all workers in their supply chain.

Image: Unsplash by Rio Lecatompessy

The report also adds that the pandemic has shined an unflattering light on the fashion industry, with many fashion brands cancelling orders leaving millions of garment workers jobless without recourse while the fashion industry continues to profit. 

Just 3 percent of brands are publicly revealing the number of workers in their supply chains laid-off due to Covid-19, which Fashion Revolution state leaves them with an “incomplete picture” of the negative socio-economic impact workers have faced throughout the pandemic. Additionally, less than a fifth (18 percent) of major brands disclose the percentage of their complete or partial order cancellations, making it difficult to assess the full impact of the pandemic across fashion supply chains.   Major brands also delayed payments to their suppliers, with Fashion Revolution’s research finding that fewer than 10 percent of brands publish a policy to pay suppliers within 60 days, meaning that clothes are often worn by consumers before brands have paid the factories that made them.

Ditty added: “The findings of this year’s Index serve to remind us that the majority of big brands still do not disclose information on what they are doing to pay living wages to workers across their supply chains.

“Brands have continued to profit throughout the pandemic whilst garment workers have endured the devastating impacts of their cancelled orders including unpaid wages, food insecurity, employment instability and poverty.”

Legislation needed to hold fashion companies accountable

While Fashion Revolution admits that progress is being made on transparency, it also adds that better legislation is required to hold major fashion brands to account for their impacts on people and the planet. 

It is calling on “stronger and better enforced legislation” to prevent human rights and environmental abuses, as well as requiring companies to monitor and report the outcomes of their efforts. When brands fail, the legislation should ensure meaningful sanctions and reparations for harm done.

“The Fashion Transparency Index has driven change by helping normalise supply chain transparency and through working with other platforms and partners enabling the research to be used to hold brands to account and to call for better laws,” explains Ditty.

Fashion revolution
Fashion Transparency Index