TEARFUND ETHICAL FASHION REPORT: SOME NZ COMPANIES LEAD THE CHARGE WHILE OTHERS FALL BEHIND

An ethical fashion report launched today by Tearfund New Zealand shows some Kiwi companies are leading the charge in ethical fashion, with top performers such as Icebreaker and Kowtow outranking global brands. However, it’s not all good news for New Zealand fashion, with a high number of NZ companies also represented in the D and F grades.

Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Report, compiled in partnership with Baptist World Aid Australia, highlighted which Kiwi companies are leading the trend as others continue to fall behind. This year’s Ethical Fashion Report includes 29 New Zealand companies, eleven of which are new additions.

A total of 130 companies representing 480 brands are graded from A-F on the systems and strategies they have in place to protect workers and the environment from exploitation. Grades are compiled into the Ethical Fashion Guide, a pocket-sized booklet Kiwis can download or order online.

Key findings of the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report include:

  • Seven NZ companies were graded in the A range, up from five in 2018. Ten NZ companies received grades of D or lower. The other 11 scored in between.
  • Icebreaker, Kowtow, Kathmandu, Nature Baby and AS Colour are among the top New Zealand performers.
  • Only 5% of companies can demonstrate they are paying a living wage to all workers at their final stage of production, highlighting the need for improvement in this area.

For the Ethical Fashion Report, companies are assessed at three critical stages of the supply chain – raw materials, inputs production and final stage production. These are grouped into five themes: policies, traceability and transparency, auditing and supplier relationships, worker empowerment and environmental impact.

In the past year, 38% of companies have improved their overall grade, with a significant improvement across the industry in 79% of the areas assessed. These areas include development in gender equality, responsible purchasing practices, child and forced labour remediation plans, and transparency.

In fact, this year the Ethical Fashion Report has seen the most substantial progress in traceability down the supply chain since its conception in 2013.

Tearfund’s CEO, Ian McInnes, says this is a sign that accountability is starting to motivate change from companies.

“All participating New Zealand companies, except one, have held or improved their grade in the last 12 months,” he says. “We commend all these companies for their consistent efforts to protect workers in their supply chain.”

This year, in addition to the four established key areas of grading (policies, transparency and traceability, auditing and supplier relationships, and worker employment), Tearfund has added a fifth grading criteria – environmental management.

It is the first year the Ethical Fashion Report has accounted for how companies are monitoring and mitigating their environmental impact throughout the supply chain.

Tearfund’s Education & Advocacy Manager, Claire Hart, leads the Ethical Fashion Report research and had this to say about the addition of environmental metrics: “The fashion industry causes significant environmental degradation, which affects the wellbeing of workers, the community and their natural environment.”

“The production of clothing involves large quantities of harmful chemicals, a high volume of water and wastewater, as well as high emissions and general waste. Through assessing their materials and facilities, brands can take informed steps to reduce their environmental impact from the farm to the final product. For these reasons, we’ve chosen to expand the Ethical Fashion Report’s focus beyond labour rights into environmental sustainability.”

Whilst some New Zealand companies are global leaders in ethical practices, Tearfund also notes the number of New Zealand companies that have received low grades.

“The fashion industry is moving in a particular direction and that is towards ethical practices, transparency and care for the planet. Companies that are choosing not to disclose information about what they’re doing to combat these systemic issues are the ones that are receiving D and F grades in the Ethical Fashion Report. Ultimately these companies risk their bottom line if they fall much further behind the international trend, because public demand for transparency and supply chains free of exploitation is only growing,” says Ms Hart.

Despite some low grades, progress is being made at home, through encouraging initiatives such as Mindful Fashion NZ, says Mr McInnes.

“In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen New Zealand designers join forces under the banner of Mindful Fashion to address challenges around auditing and supply chain tracing. I’m thrilled to these designers take the necessary steps and come up with a creative solution to ensuring workers are not exploited in their supply chains.

“The sort of positive change that will take place because of Mindful Fashion is exactly what we are seeking to achieve with the Ethical Fashion Report and we are in full support of these brands’ efforts.”

To download a copy of the Ethical Fashion Report or Guide, visit Tearfund.org.nz/ethicalfashion.


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