It’s not enough not to know anymore. In fact, it’s not even enough to know, but not share.

On 24 April, 2013, the eight-story Rana Plaza building housing several garment factories was reduced to rubble. This factory was situated in Savar, 24 kilometers outside Dhaka, and collapsed due to structural failure. When owners first discovered these cracks in the building, garment workers were ordered to return to work despite the danger, and sadly, many paid for this with their lives. The collapse of Rana Plaza led to the death of at least 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500.

Aerial view of the building following the 2013 Rana Plaza collapsedisaster

Historically, supply chain transparency hasn’t been at the top of the priority list for many brands. However, the Rana Plaza disaster made it very clear this needed to change. Some brands were hesitant to disclose whether or not they manufactured clothes at Rana Plaza. Other brands had such low visibility into their supply chains they didn’t even know that manufacturing was taking place at Rana Plaza.

To prove which brands were manufacturing at Rana Plaza, survivors, rescuers and advocates sifted through the rubble of the collapsed building to find evidence of company orders and clothing labels. Consumers were shocked by this disaster and the unsafe conditions that people producing their clothes worked in. Brands who unwittingly found themselves in the spotlight were also astonished.

The system had to change.

For too many years, it was acceptable for fashion brands to share little information about their supply chains and environmental practices. Consumers have purchased clothes without thinking twice about the implications of their buying decisions. But now, as a result of events like the Rana Plaza collapse, there is more awareness than ever before about the risk of exploitation within supply chains. Consumers are no longer satisfied with being given little or no information. They not only want to know that the people making their clothes are being treated fairly and with dignity, but that the companies selling the clothes actually care.

According to The Social Media and the Evolution of Transparency report, most consumers define transparency as being open, clear and honest. The study shows customers are more loyal to companies which reflect those qualities, and willing to walk away from those that don’t. To top that off, the report showed consumers expect more from businesses than from anyone else. In fact, apparently 81 percent of consumers say businesses have a responsibility to be transparent on social media— a higher standard than they set for politicians, friends, or even themselves.

According to The Social Media and the Evolution of Transparency report, 81 percent of consumers say businesses have a responsibility to be transparent on social media

It’s time for brands to take responsibility for the conditions in their supply chains, and many of them are starting to do this. According to Mark Di Somma from brand strategy company, Audacity, brands are not only being asked to account for what they deliver – they’re being asked the specifics behind how they deliver.

"The fast movers in this space have adopted transparency as proof of value, not just proof of source. By highlighting what they do to keep things right, to eliminate exploitation and waste, they are looking to shift the affinity that customers have for their products from functional to emotional. That’s the future of loyalty right there potentially: brands that feel right because they do right. Reinforcing and activating the changes that consumers want to see in the world is a powerful way to build a bond. ”

- Mark Di Somma, Audacity

Part of this proof of value is providing evidence. Transparency cannot be achieved through publishing generalised statements with little supporting evidence. Consumers need more. Leading fashion brands are revealing the depths of their supply chains to their customers, in the form of audit reports, data analysis and improvement strategies, to show they are fully committed to the cause. This evidence proves the company’s commitment to transparency.

The good news is that the system is changing. Results from Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Report show that transparency has improved significantly across the industry since 2013 with 31% more companies publishing information about the factories they source from. Disclosing audit findings, company strategies to address issues within the supply chain and future goals are just some of the other ways that companies are showing their transparency, and in turn, gaining the trust of their customers.

A-man-sits-at-his-sewing-machine-in-Bangladesh.jpg

Transparency is the new currency of trust for the fashion industry. In a world where consumers now care about the impact of their shopping habits, there’s no other way forward but for companies to start putting their money where their mouth is.

To download your free Ethical Fashion Guide and find out which of your favourite brands are committed to transparency, visit Tearfund.org.nz/ethicalfashion.


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