“I think you know I have a sceptical view on this report as they don’t have all of the information at hand, so I don’t understand how they are able to give companies accurate ratings.”
This email, sent to me by the proprietor of a major Australian fashion brand, and quoted here with their permission, echoes the collective angst in the industry each time Baptist World Aid releases its Ethical Fashion Report.
Last week, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, in which at least 1132 people died, Baptist World Aid released a special report to show what progress has, or has not, been made since the tragedy, particularly on the issue of garment workers’ rights.
The topline statistic, which this masthead reported, was that it would take 75 years for Australia’s largest fashion companies to pay a living wage, which is the term for a salary that covers the necessities of life (food, transport, housing, healthcare, clothing), plus a modest amount of discretionary income. It is not a minimum wage.
Discussing the progress towards a living wage, even in arbitrary terms, is an effective way to present the conversation, including the fashion industry’s role in achieving it for some of the world’s lowest-paid workers – that is, the people who make our clothes. But, as the fashion label owner pointed out, reports that rank companies, such as the Baptist World Aid one, are imperfect, and can present a warped view of what companies are or are not doing to meet their sustainability goals, of which living wage is a major component.
The shortcomings of these reports, and others like them that rank companies, intentionally or not, along “good” and “bad” lines, sometimes mean fast-fashion brands, whose problematic business models have been well documented, rank higher than Australian companies doing their best to improve.
Reports that rank companies … are imperfect, and can present a warped view of what companies are or are not doing.
Due to the narrow grading criteria of organisations such as Baptist World Aid, companies such as Zara can be graded “good”, while companies such as Australian label Cue can seemingly come out looking “bad”, as was the case in the Rana Plaza anniversary report, which showed the 60-year-old brand in the bottom five for progress since 2013, despite paying a proportionately higher number of its workers a living wage than others surveyed.
That’s where analysis of such reports, including speaking to independent experts, is important. The consumer, for the most part, wants to do the right thing, and wants to be seen doing the right thing. Not everyone has the budget to shop at boutique ethical brands, but many want to know that if they are shopping at discount chains that they are preferencing those with proper sustainability plans. Kmart, while still a major contributor to landfill in this country due to its low-cost clothing model, has actually made great improvements in supply chain transparency over the past decade.