The fashion industry is notoriously known for being one of the most polluting industries on the planet. But few know that it’s one of the least transparent when it comes to sharing what it takes for clothes to reach our wardrobes.
A fashion brand’s supply chain can involve hundreds of thousands of people and hands at any given time, yet a huge number of brands and retailers still publish little to no information about their manufacturers, processing facilities, raw material suppliers and workers wages. That’s not good going for an industry that employs an estimated 300 million people, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Each year Fashion Revolution, the world’s largest fashion activism movement, publishes its annual Fashion Transparency Index, a report which reviews and ranks 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers according to how much they share about their social and environmental policies, practices and impacts.
Brands rated include the likes of H&M and Fashion Nova to luxury labels like Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta. They’ve been rated on five key segments which they call: Policy & Commitments, Governance, Traceability, Know, Show & Fix and Spotlighting Issues.
To read the full Fashion Revolution Transparency Index 2020 report, click here. Want to dive into the key findings? Read on for the most crucial insights you need to know.
Fashion Revolution’s definition of transparency
The public disclosure of credible, comprehensive and comparable data and information about fashion’s supply chains, business practices and the impacts of these practices on workers, communities and the environment.
Brands for the Index are chosen on the basis of their annual turnover being above 400 million USD with a global presence. Key findings of the 2020 report include:
1. The top 10 scorers include a mix of fast-fashion and e-commerce brands
The top ten scorers on 2020’s report and their scores are:
- H&M (73%)
- C&A (70%)
- Adidas/Reebok (69%)
- Esprit (64%)
- Marks & Spencer (60%)
- Patagonia (60%)
- The North Face/Timbaland/Vans/Wrangler (59%)
- Puma (57%)
- ASOS (55%)
- Converse/Jordan/Nike (55%)
2. The following brands were the lowest scorers, scoring 0 across all categories
- Elie Tahari
- Heilan Home
- Jessica Simpson
- Max Mara
- Pepe Jeans
- Tom Ford
3. High-street retailers like H&M and Espirit are the highest scorers
H&M came out on top on this year’s index, namely because of their efforts to publish more information about their first-tier manufacturers. Primark and Topshop scored 38% (decidedly more than Burberry and Hermes, who scored just 36 and 33% respectively!)
A campaign shot from H&M Conscious Collection 2020
4. Adidas & Reebok are the highest-ranking sportswear brands
In 2019 Adidas & Reebok were the Fashion Transparency Index’s highest scorers, and this year they have improved their score. Nike just about made the top 10, scoring 55%.
5. Patagonia has unfortunately lost a few points
Considered a global leader in sustainability, last year Patagonia scored 64% whereas this year they’ve scored 60%. However, they are the only brand to reveal data on the number of workers involved in their supply chain who receive a living wage.
6. Luxury brands are still behind on transparency but are making progress
Gucci, owned by the Kering Group, came out as the highest-scoring luxury brand at 48%, which was up from 40% in 2019. It’s also the only brand to score 100% on their Policies and Commitments. Ermenegildo Zegna is the first luxury brand to publish a detailed list of its suppliers.
7. Shockingly few brands publish information about living wages for workers
Workers wages continue to be a part of the fashion supply chain that most brands don’t want to address. Less than a quarter (23%) of brands have shared their companies' approach to achieving living wages for the people making their clothes. A mere 5 brands published a roadmap to achieve this.
8. The coronavirus pandemic proves why transparency is urgently needed
As the recent coronavirus epidemic has shown, this is a serious issue for the millions of workers employed worldwide in the garment industry. Since the pandemic began, a number of huge international brands have responded by cancelling orders and delaying payments to factories in order to save money. These companies include Primark, Inditex, Marks & Spencer, Target and more.
This has left workforces in largely developed countries in limbo, with their livelihood now suspended. With little savings to fall back on and no social protection system in place like we have in the West, many are now facing abject poverty.
9. More than half of the brands reviewed scored 20% or less
Sadly, there’s still a long way to go towards transparency amongst the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers. When brands refuse to share details about what it takes for them to create the collections you see online and in their retail outlets, then that should sound alarm bells. Brands that don’t publish any information are likely not providing a safe working environment, producing in an environmentally conscious way and not paying their workers proper wages. The general consensus is if they’re not forthcoming with information, it’s likely they have something to hide.
10. Brands communicate the seriousness of the climate crisis, but they need to be more clear about how they are reducing their impact.
More brands are communicating their stance on key environmental issues like climate change, animal welfare and water usage through their websites and social media. 78% of major brands publish a proper company policy on energy use and carbon emissions (which is up from 72% last year), while 52% publish a supplier policy on this topic (up from 49% last year).
But, only 16% of brands publish science based targets and details on their annual carbon emissions within the supply chain. This is alarming, given it's where the largest proportion of carbon is emitted across a garment's lifecycle.
Action for Transparency
By Brands and Retailers
We call on brands and retailers to publish information on their social and environmental policies, practices and impacts. We currently face problems such as information dumping, where brands use superfluous language and irrelevant data to act transparently. Hence, we urge brands to not only publish data but publish comprehensive, easily accessible and honest information that consumers and the rest of the industry can utilise.
By Governments and Policymakers
We need better policies and regulations in place that not only hold companies accountable for their transparency commitments but make it easier for businesses to be transparent. There has to be more effective implementation and enforcement of these policies. With mandatory legislation in place, it will push brands and retailers to actively consider human rights and environmental sustainability.
As consumers, we can encourage transparency in our favourite brands by asking them #WhoMadeMyClothes. Not only does this send a powerful message, but also can inspire others in your community to do so. By knowing how your clothes were made, under what conditions and by whom, it means the brands you support do care. They care about paying fair wages, treating workers with dignity and ensuring the environment does not have to suffer to make the clothes you wear.
So what now?
Can transparency alone change the fashion industry? No. It’s important to see it as a tool for change rather than the end goal.
Reports like the annual Fashion Revolution Transparency Index play an important role in holding brands accountable and incentivises them to make information about how they do business more readily available. However, this needs to be coupled with real, tangible action by brands to change the way they do business for the good of people and the planet.
Simply put, it’s time for the fashion industry to reinvent itself. To do so, we believe it needs to measure success by more than just sales and profits. The future of fashion will be one that also prioritises human wellbeing and environmental sustainability, rather than financial growth.