The Fashion Transparency Index 2019 review ranked 200 brands according to how readily they disclose social and environmental practices. The results? While more brands are moving towards full transparency than ever before, far too many are still frustratingly opaque.

 

Fashion is finally waking up to sustainability – but the lexicon surrounding eco-friendly and ethical fashion is fraught with inaccuracies.

 

The three highest ranking brands in the 2019 edition of the Fashion Transparency Index are Adidas, Reebok and Patagonia; in results which remain predominantly consistent with last year’s publication.

Fashion Revolution, the organisation which publishes the index, says firms’ scores are dependent on disclosure of a “wide range of human rights policies, commitments and outcomes, as well as who their suppliers are.”

According to the 250 point metric by which brands are judged, Adidas, Reebok and Patagonia have become the highest ranking firms in the process — scoring 64 per cent respectively — and are, along with Esprit and H&M, the first companies in the index’s history to achieve a rating over 60 per cent.

One of the brands to notably lose ground is Puma, which was ranked just behind the highest achievers in the 2018 report but has now been categorised in the lower 51-60 per cent bracket.

The average score this year was 21 percent, with several brands publishing social and environmental information for the very first time, including Chanel, Desigual, Dior, s.Oliver, and Sandro.

Luxury brands are becoming less opaque, too. Gucci and Bottega Veneta are among the highest-scoring luxury brands, and have achieved 100 per cent on criteria including “policy & commitments”, which involves answering questions such as “What are the brand’s social and environmental policies?” Meanwhile Dior and Marc Jacobs are among the biggest movers since 2018, with an improved performance of 22 per cent for the former, and 17 per cent for the latter.

38 brands are disclosing their processing facilities, where embroidering, printing, dyeing and finishing typically takes place. 55 per cent are publishing the carbon footprint of the company at its own sites (though only 19.5 per cent have published the carbon emissions throughout the supply chain).

While any brand’s attempt to become more transparent should be applauded, these numbers are still frighteningly low. And there are far more worrying statistics buried in the report. Take the fact that, for all the emphasis on waste in the news at the moment, only 26.5 per cent of brands choose to describe what they are doing to reduce pre-consumer waste, such as dead stock and production samples. Furthermore, only 23.5 per cent of brands disclose that they currently offer their customers in-store or online recycling schemes (H&M has offered a garment collecting programme since 2013, and M&S has its Shwopping initiative, for example). And just 26 per cent explain how they’re investing in circular solutions to reduce textile waste.

“Hermès is currently the only luxury brand publishing a factory list and this is the principal area in which luxury is lagging behind the mainstream,” says Carry Somers, founder and global operations director of Fashion Revolution. “Overall in this category, we have seen disclosure increase from an average score of 12.5 per cent three years ago to 35 per cent today. The disclosure of supplier factory lists is a foundational element of human rights due diligence. It is also a necessary first step towards accountability when labour and human rights violations occur, and helps brands better manage risk which can harm their reputation. We need to see luxury doing much better in this area.”

 

It may be that many of the brands participating in the report are seeking to get their house in order before they publicise the results. Others simply do not possess the data about their own practices. Regardless: the world’s biggest brands need to take responsibility for the environmental and social impacts of the textile industry – and consumers need to push them towards full disclosure.

 

“These brands are disclosing a wide range of human rights and environmental policies and commitments as well as information about how responsibility is governed throughout the business, who their suppliers are and some data about the outcomes and impacts of their sustainability practices”, said Fashion Revolution of the top 5 companies.

 

Transparency is not just sharing the good stories nor disclosing only compliant, well-performing suppliers. It’s about presenting the full picture.

 

Suppliers

The amount of fashion companies disclosing their suppliers list has increased: 70 out of the 200 brands disclose their first-tier manufacturers, compared to 55 in 2018 and 32 in 2017. But it is much less common for brands to reveal their processing facilities, where ginning and spinning, embroidering, printing, finishing dyeing and laundering take place: only 38 brands do that in 2019, 11 more than in 2018. There’s been a significant increase in the number of companies disclosing their suppliers of raw materials, however. 10 brands do so in 2019, while in 2018 only a single company did.

 

Carbon footprint

According to Fashion Revolution, fashion companies still have a long way to go when it comes to disclosing their carbon footprint. Consumers just aren’t getting the whole picture. Although 55 percent of the 200 brands do publish the carbon footprint in the company’s own sites, most of them (79 percent) do not say anything about carbon emissions across their supply chain, where over 50 percent of the industry’s emissions occur, according to sustainability metrics firm Quantis.

 

Gender equality

Considering the amount of “empowering” collections we’ve seen in celebration of International Women’s Day, one could assume fashion brands and retailers to be just as vocal about the steps they take to increase gender equality in their facilities and across the supply chain.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Of the 200 brands analyzed this year, only 37.5 percent declare to be involved in projects focused on female empowerment, down from 40 percent last year. While 37 percent of labels do publish policies on equal pay, only 33 percent reveal the actual gender gap within their company. What’s more, less than 2 percent of brands publish data concerning the occurrence of gender-based labor violations in suppliers’ facilities.

“Considering the fashion industry employs millions of women, brands ought to share far more information about how they are addressing gender equality”, says Fashion Revolution in the report. The organization estimates 70-80 percent of all people working in the fashion industry, from the factory to the shop floor, to be female.

 

Sustainable materials

Lately, it seems like most major fashion labels are launching products containing recycled plastic bottles: Adidas, Puma, Everlane, Kate Hudson, C&A… The list of brands goes on an on. Usually, these collections are followed by a pledge to increase the use of sustainable materials like recycled polyester, organic cotton and lyocell. While this change is to celebrated, Fashion Revolution’s report demonstrates there’s still a long road to full transparency when it comes to the materials used: although 43 percent of the companies verified are publishing a strategy or roadmap for the use of sustainable materials, only 29 percent of them disclose the percentage of sustainable materials used in each product.

 

Human rights and fair living wage

All in all, human rights and a fair living wage don’t seem to be deemed as important as environmental issues by fashion brands: while 54 percent of the companies analyzed by Fashion Revolution publish a list of goals to improve their environmental impact, only 40 percent do the same for human rights.

Buyers’ mounting pressure for low prices is a significant factor behind the absence of a fair living wage for garment factory workers in countries like Turkey, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh. According to the 2019 Fashion Transparency Index, only 3 percent of the fashion brands analyzed disclose a method for isolating and calculating labor costs in their price negotiation process with suppliers.