The Fashion Transparency Index 2021 – Our Thoughts and Ideas19.10.2021
Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index 2021 has been released! Although it may seem a bit excessive to be excited about a report, Transparency Index 2021 is a highlight of the sustainable fashion calendar. Forget Vogue’s September issue. This is the fashion activist’s equivalent.
We have been curious to see how the fashion industry has responded to the covid pandemic. Many big fashion brands stopped paying their suppliers last year and it appeared that fashion’s social sustainability was in decline. Are fashion brands still trying to create transparent supply chains, better communications and clean up their act? This report should reveal that, we hope.
Why is TRANSPARENCY Important?
Would you enjoy being lied to? It’s not necessary to answer this question – everyone does not. Lies are a big problem in the fashion industry. It can lead to poor purchasing decisions by consumers and lax policies that do not prevent the exploitation people and the planet. It is easier to exploit people when there is no transparency in supply chains or unknown manufacturers. This allows big brands to deny guilt and refuse to take responsibility on the grounds of “not knowing better”.
Fashion Revolution began their search after Rana Plaza, a disaster that saw a large Bangladeshi fashion factory collapse, resulting in the deaths of 1,134 people and injuries to 2,500 others. Managers were under pressure to fulfill orders and meet fast fashion turnaround times so they sent workers into the building despite knowing it was unsafe. Benetton and Bonmarche were among the retailers that fell victim to the collapse, as was George at ASDA, Mango and Matalan.
Carol Kane, the CEO of Boohoo pleading ignorance that Leicester factories paid staff less than minimum wage in 2020 is a recent example.
Fashion Revolution is listed in the Transparency Index 2021. “We focus on the most profitable and well-known retailers and brands because they have the most negative effects on workers and the environment. Therefore, we are committed to making a difference.”
This is the perfect summary of why transparency is so important. Fashion Revolution actively searches through murky supply chains to promote change. These large brands often fall far short of what we consider transparent or sustainable.
Additionally, we would like to say that this ranking should not be a source of pride for brands. They are both the largest and most profitable retailers and brands in the world, which is a problem in terms of sustainability. H&M was dubbed the “world’s most transparent company” after the publication of the 2020 version. This statement was rebuked by activists and fashion brands alike. The index this year goes beyond simply displaying traceability throughout brands’ supply chains and provides communication guidelines to help avoid greenwashing.
OVS topped the report with 78%. However, the average transparency score of the top fashion brands in the world was only 23%. This means that 3 out 4 wardrobe items have been manufactured without transparency in the supply chain or public disclosure. This is simply unacceptable.
The average rating was lowered by 20 brands that had a 0% rating. These brands range from luxury fashion to ultra-fast fashion. This shows that higher prices don’t always mean better ethics.
BRANDS WITH 0% OFF THE TRANSPARENCY INDEX 2021
- Elie Tahari
- Fashion Nova
- Heilan Home
- Jessica Simpson
- Max Mara
- New Yorker
- Pepe Jeans
- Tom Ford
- Tory Burch
Fashion Revolution has made a significant progress since its 2014 call for transparency. It is noted that almost half of the major brands included in the Transparency Index 2021 now publish a list listing manufacturers. However, these lists are often only for “first-tier” manufacturers. This is the final stage in production, e.g., cutting, sewing, packaging and shipping.
This is great, but true transparency goes beyond. The next step is “Production facilities above the first-tier manufacturing.” Just 27 percent of brands currently disclose wet processing and spinning mills in their supply chain. The accompanying infographic shows just how many stages there are in fashion supply chains, and yet we only really hear about retail and the cutting/sewing/finishing stages.
BRANDS RETAIN SUSTAINABILITY EFFORTS ABOVE THEIR HEARS
Producing the Transparency Index 2021 was a huge task for Fashion Revolution, and all previous iterations. The way that big brands communicate their human rights and environmental efforts is making it more difficult, which has been described as “overwhelming”, impenetrable and repetitive, and very difficult to find.
Brands make it “impossible for customers or stakeholders to decipher information”, hiding information “dozens of clicking away” from brands’ homepages.
Although we assume that this is to discourage shoppers from searching for the information and instead push them to buy, it might not always be true. Fashion Revolution points out that even for the highest scoring brands in this Index it takes our experienced researchers many hours and days to go through all of their communications and find what is relevant and useful.
Both poor sustainability efforts presentation and the deliberate concealing of (often lacking in) them are factors. To find the actual impacts, we must also comb through “nice-sounding copy” about brands’ values. These issues could be the reason why only 18% of consumers trust sustainability information directly from brands, according to Changing Markets Foundation.
This is something we hope brands will take into consideration. Research and consumers need to have easy access to sustainability efforts. This will hopefully lead to “standardization of credible, comparable disclosures of human rights and impacts on the environment by major brands and retailers in the future.”
Many of the biggest fashion companies in the world cancelled orders last year with their manufacturers. The pandemic was not borne by the shareholders of big fashion brands, but rather the workers who work in their supply chains – possibly illegally – instead. Wages were lost, jobs lost, and many faced increased food insecurity, hunger and stress.
The Index reveals how brands have reverted to hiding their orders cancellations and exploiting workers in order to show that they are not transparent. According to the report, only 18% of brands have provided data on order cancellations over the past year. According to a Centre for Global Workers’ Rights report, 75% reported that their suppliers had to reduce workers’ hours due to buyer buying practices during the pandemic. Fashion Revolution also found that 97% brands didn’t publish the number of people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. This is a huge blind spot.
While panic mode was a common reaction among brands, many brands found that they were able to continue growing their profits by shopping online. Remake discovered that these fashion brands earned a profit during the third quarter 2020:
- Banana Republic
- Old Navy
- Under Armour
…But many of these brands were also the ones that cancelled orders and had to be compelled by the #PayUpFashion campaign, to pay their manufacturers.
The Index notes that despite the government’s efforts to “build back better”, fashion brands aren’t using the opportunity to implement policies around issues like “social auditing,” living wages for supply-chain workers, purchasing practices and unionisation.
Many brands have found an excuse to fall behind financially due to the pandemic.
Many fashion brands participated in Stop Asian Hate and Black Lives Matter campaigns in 2020. However, were their black squares or diversified social media feeds just performative actions? The Transparency Index 2021 confirms that yes.
- Only 12% of brands publish actions regarding racial equality in operations
- Only 16% of major brands reveal the breakdown of job positions by ethnicity within their own operations
- Only 2% of supply chains publish data on ethnicity pay gaps.
Gender equality is, however, much more easily reported. Fashion Revolution points out that policies such as the UK law that requires companies with 250+ employees to disclose gender pay gaps support this. It is evident that something similar is required for racial equity. For starters, it is necessary to reverse the policies of France and Germany that have prohibited the collection of ethnicity information.
We have something to look forward too, in terms of policy! The European Commission will propose a new Sustainable Product Policy Framework towards the end of 2021. It sets standards for the durability, reusability and repairability of textiles. This framework is part the European Green Deal. According to the Index, this framework will require companies to “proactively assess and act on human rights and environmental risk throughout their supply chains.”
It is important to remember, however, that such policies are needed around the globe. “We need legislation to prevent human rights violations and environmental abuses, and to require companies to report on the implementation and results of those efforts. Additionally, brands should receive reparations and sanctions for any harms they cause.
Fashion Revolution completed their report by inviting readers not to shop but to use the Index to inform them.
There are still major problems with 250 of the biggest brands in this report. None of them are fair to people or the planet. They are not transparent enough about how they treat people or planet.