Report on ethical fashion upsets Australian brands over environment and workers’ rights | australian fashion

Large Australian department store chain Myer challenges its poor ranking in an ethical fashion assessment which found the company is failing to reduce its environmental impact and ensure its supply chains are free from modern slavery .

Other big names in Australia such as Bardot, RM Williams and Quicksilver also received failure ratings in the same categories in this year’s ethical fashion report by Baptist World Aid Australia.

The report assessed the ethical practices of 98 Australian, New Zealand and international companies, representing 42o fashion brands.

This is the most comprehensive ethical fashion report for Australia and New Zealand, giving companies an alphabetical rating based on their transparency and demonstrable practices regarding the treatment of workers and the environment, through inquiries, consultations and in-depth reviews of publicly available documents.

While Myer received an overall D rating, she received an F for worker empowerment and environmental sustainability.

According to the report, the company failed to prove that any of its end-stage manufacturing facilities paid workers decent wages, had programs to raise wages, or “issued a credible pledge to pay workers. decent wages ”, accompanied by a timetable and milestones.

In the previous report, Myer obtained a D + in both this category and in the environmental category. A company spokesperson objected to the new qualities, saying Myer continued to require all suppliers to adhere to a “strict ethical sourcing policy.”

“[The new grades] do not accurately reflect our program and the continuous improvements made, the result also being inconsistent with the results and benchmarking of previous years, ”he said.

“Myer’s ethical sourcing program is well established and has been in place for over ten years and continues to evolve and improve each year.We will meet with the Baptists to better understand their significant change in the evaluation of our procurement program, particularly in a year when further improvements have been made to the program.

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While Baptist World Aid Australia’s director of advocacy, Peter Keegan, declined to speak directly about Myer, he defended the report’s 2021 assessments, saying the ethical criteria continue to evolve as the industry continues to evolve. fashion industry is increasingly aware of its endemic problems.

“This year, for example, we introduced new issues around modern slavery with the introduction of the [new Australian] modern slavery law. We [also] increased the weighting and number of questions in the environmental section, ”he said.

“We have to be very clear that what we can credit for is what we can see proof of… So if a company maybe shared a little less with us this year than it did. may not have done so in the past, it means we “have less evidence with which to work to assess and understand what is going on in their supply chain.”

“We cannot base a rating solely on where a business might have been a few years ago, we have to continue to see proof that it is still there and continues to move forward. . “

Myer’s direct competitor, David Jones received an overall rating of B, scoring a C in worker empowerment and a B in environmental sustainability.

While four companies scored A + overall – Etiko, Joyya, Mighty Good Basics, and Outland Denim – many major industry players have failed.

Women’s clothing brand Bardot, along with Boardsurfer, the company behind Billabong, Quiksilver and Roxy, have achieved overall F ratings, including in the areas of human rights monitoring, worker empowerment, and environmental sustainability. .

Australia Footwear and clothing brand RM Williams earned an overall D rating, but also failed to prove that one of its end-stage manufacturing facilities paid workers a living wage.

These three companies chose not to provide additional information to the report, which means that only publicly available information was assessed. This tended to give lower marks than those who cooperate with Baptist World Aid.

RM William chief executive Chris Willingham said the report “paints a very inaccurate picture” of the company.

“This year’s score is the result of the 2021 survey which was not completed due to significant changes in the business over the past 12 months. Now that the company has returned to Australian ownership, with a commitment to manufacture more products in Australia, we are committed to operating in a completely transparent manner, ”he said.

“The score given to us this year does not accurately reflect who we are, and we look forward to setting the record straight next year.”

Other brands, such as sportswear company Lorna Jane, which received a D, or SHEIKE, which received an F in each category, have suggested that non-participation was contributing to their poor performance.

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“Unfortunately, this year we did not have the internal resources to engage with Baptist World Aid to participate in the report,” said SHEIKE CEO Sandra Kennedy.

“While we don’t strive to be known as a sustainable fashion brand, we certainly do try to do our part to minimize our impact on the planet.”

According to Keegan, the overall results this year have been mixed.

The most important areas for improvement were in policy and governance, with many A’s and A’s assigned. But when it came to enforcing these commitments, such as regularly auditing suppliers’ working conditions, ratings began to drop dramatically.

“We are seeing companies that have taken the first steps, but they have not yet fully integrated that into all aspects of their operation… They have put in place some of the policies and codes of conduct, and we welcome that. that these are on it, ”Keegan said.

“But the reality is that in order for this to have an impact for workers, it is about making sure that [the companies] have entered into fair contracts with their suppliers.

“Some of the key things that make the biggest difference for garment workers are stuck at stubbornly low levels… Only 15% of companies can show us that they are paying a living wage to one of the workers in the latter stages of the process. their production. “

Dr Rebecca Van Amber, a fashion sustainability expert at RMIT University, warned that such reports would never be able to paint a full picture of conditions on the ground.

“Unless you are physically there and audit the factory or have a trusted auditor, how can you know your goods are not being made in a factory down the road for less?” Van Amber said.

Keegan said that, for this reason, companies are evaluated on their efforts to find and correct cases of unfair labor.

“If a company that runs a large global operation tells you that there is no form of slavery in their supply chain, then I would say they probably haven’t looked at it carefully enough or taken the problem hard enough. seriously, ”Keegan said.

“The important thing for them is that they constantly research, that they put in place measures that help reduce these risks.

The report also assessed companies’ environmental policies, including efforts such as emission reduction targets and the use of sustainable fibers.

Myer, RM Williams, Bardot, Lorna Jane, SHEIKE and Boardriders also received failure ratings in this category.

“[A report like this] is definitely better than nothing and it can certainly help consumers make better choices, ”said Van Amber.

“But do I think that’s the ultimate goal?” Not necessarily because as consumers we don’t see all of the information they see that goes into this report, and your personal criteria. [for what makes an ethical brand] maybe quite different.

Bardot and Boardriders have been contacted for comment.

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