Six high-profile New Zealand fashion brands have shown some commitment to supporting factory workers who make their clothes during the Covid-19 crisis, a new report into the industry’s ethics shows.
The Covid Fashion Report, released by Tearfund and Baptist World Aid on Wednesday highlights the extent to which 428 well-known fashion brands around the world worked to address the immediate risks facing fashion workers in developing countries because of the pandemic.
AS Colour, Freeset, Hallensteins and Glassons, Icebreaker, Kathmandu and Macpac were all ranked in the top tier out of 11 New Zealand companies assessed that could provide some evidence of upholding the report’s Covid Fashion Commitments.
There was evidence that Postie and The Warehouse Group had actioned some of the six commitments outlined in the report, while Barkers, Farmers and Max did not take part in the 2020 report.
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Tearfund said the fashion industry had an opportunity to change the way it treated its workers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tearfund education and advocacy manager Claire Gray said the report looked at how workers’ rights were affected by the spread of the coronavirus.
During the pandemic factories slashed production by up to 85 per cent, workers salaries decreased by 40 per cent and more than a million workers in Bangladesh lost their jobs, she said.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment manufacturing nation, after China.
Garment workers globally lost US$5.79 billion (NZ$8.52b) in wages during the crisis.
“We designed the six covid commitments to focus companies’ energy on what the most important thing to do for workers during this season,” Gray said.
The commitments included supporting workers’ wages by honouring supplier commitments. Identifying and supporting the workers at the greatest risk, listening to the voices and experience of workers, ensuring workers’ rights and safety were respected, collaborating with others to protect vulnerable workers, and putting in plants to build back better for workers and the world.
Fashion brands’ efforts at upholding the commitments were assessed and a three level ranking system showed how each brand performed.
Top scorers were the brands that could demonstrate action across all six commitments and achieved the top of the three rankings.
Gray said the pandemic, while drastically affecting the sales and profits of clothing companies, had the greatest impact on vulnerable people, in this case, the workers who made clothes, Gray said.
Consumers had a lot of power to push companies to do better, she said.
“Consumers should do two things. They should educate themselves, they should understand the system and know more about the brands they are buying from. Secondly, they should choose to make intentional purchasing decisions,” she said.
“If we put money where our mouth is, we will make a difference.”
Covid showed a global fashion system that was broken, Gray said.
“It has exposed areas of human and environmental exploitation that has been going unchecked for years,” Gray said.
“This disruption gives companies the opportunity to pause and reflect and then reimagine a future differently. We are hoping companies will use this disruption as a way to build back better.”
Kathmandu corporate responsibility manager, Gary Shaw, said the company was redifining how business success was measured post-covid-19.
The New Zealand-based outdoor company was shifting its business mindset by embracing transparency and by working collaboratively rather than competitively with other clothing brands.
”Many of the social and environmental issues that we are trying to address are bigger than anything one company can deal with on their own,” Shaw said.
This meant working with suppliers and moving away from an auditing compliance approach, he said.
The problem with auditing was that suppliers would then just try to pass an audit and get a tick in a box rather than being transparent about the issues they were having in their work force and manufacturing, Shaw said.
“We are saying, show us the bad stuff, we want to work together on it to improve it,” he said.
During Covid-19, Kathmandu worked with manufacturers to ensure that all orders could be honoured, rather than cancelling orders, Shaw said.
Kathmandu was still focused on making money, but not just about making money, he said.