Partners in Christian Mission

October/November 2020

October/November 2020

RELEASE: Ethical Fashion Guide and Report, 2020


COVID-19 Disruption Reveals which Fashion Brands Most Committed to Vulnerable Workers

By Chantelle Mayo, Baptist World Aid Australia

About the COVID Ethical Fashion Report

BWAA Ethical FashionKnown for publishing the annual Ethical Fashion Report, which grades clothing brands for their efforts to address worker exploitation and environmental degradation, Baptist World Aid Australia (BWAA) has adjusted this year's criteria to motivate fashion companies to commit to standing with the workers in their global supply chains.

The coronavirus crisis presents the potential slowing, or reversal, of a decade of progress made in improving the rights and conditions of workers making clothes around the world.

The fashion industry is no longer business as usual ... and neither are we. This year's ethical research takes a hard look at the way individual companies (and the fashion industry as a whole) have stood with their workers throughout the pandemic... and how they're planning to protect the wellbeing of workers and the earth moving forward.

But that's not all ...

Your COVID Fashion Guide looks a little different this year, too. The reigns are being placed into YOUR hands, equipping you as a consumer to pass on dignity to garment workers and sustainability to our planet.

Get your COVID-19 Fashion Report, and Fashion Guide

GET Them Now

COVID--Catalyst for Change

The COVID crisis has acted as a catalyst for change with many Australian Fashion brands working to improve the gaps and weaknesses in existing ethical sourcing practices, according to the 2020 COVID Fashion Report released by Baptist World Aid today.

The pandemic edition of the Annual Ethical Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid, reveals that more than 70% of companies assessed in 2020 could demonstrate that they had taken at least some deliberate positive actions to support vulnerable garment workers through the global pandemic.

However, despite these positive results, the crisis has also exposed the areas still needing vast improvement in the fashion industry, with no companies assessed in the report being able to demonstrate an end-to-end supply chain response to the impact of the pandemic.

The 6 COVID Fashion Commitments

The COVID Fashion Report highlights the extent to which more than 400 well-known brands worked to address the immediate risks facing workers in global fashion supply chains. Top scorers in 2020 were the brands that could demonstrate action across all 6 COVID Fashion Commitments, which include:

  • Supporting workers' wages by honouring supplier commitments
  • Identifying and support the workers at greatest risk
  • Listening to the voices and experience of workers
  • Ensuring workers' rights and safety are respected
  • Collaborating with other to protect vulnerable workers
  • Building back better than before, for workers and the world

Unfortunately, most companies (56%) were unable to evidence actions in all 6 areas of the COVID Fashion Commitments. However, a range of A/NZ brands, such as Country Road, Glassons, Retail Apparel Group (Tarocash, yd. Connor), and Kathmandu, were recognised as 2020 top scorers in the report, alongside a number of international brands such as Patagonia, The Iconic and UNIQLO.

COVID-19 impact on garment workers

Children in Bangladesh

The early months of 2020 saw 50 million garment workers lose wages, totalling to $5.79 billion USD, as the economic impacts of COVID-19 caused Australian retail foot traffic to fall by 71%. As clothing sales plummeted, fashion companies were forced to furlough staff and temporarily shut stores.

More than half of garment manufacturers in Bangladesh reported in March that the majority of their in-progress or completed production had been cancelled by major fashion brands. By May, over 30% of Bangladeshi garment workers reported their children had gone without food.

Worker voice systems including grievance mechanisms and worker unions were found to be the largest industry-wide weakness within the report, as only 15% of companies surveyed provided evidence of strong and effective grievance mechanisms being present in their factories throughout the pandemic.

Despite this, the report does indicate brands shifting focus with 22% of companies identifying strengthening worker voice systems as a key priority moving forward, and 16% of companies reported piloting or implementing new systems through the crisis period.

Summing up from BWAA's John Hickey

John Hickey, CEO BWAA

BWAA CEO John Hickey said, "Fashion companies have been literally fighting for survival in 2020. But the wellbeing of the workers who produce the garments they sell must still be considered a core priority. Survival is critical, but it should not be achieved on the backs of their most vulnerable workers.

"The pandemic has impacted the fashion industry at great scale, with the potential of reversing a decade worth of progress made in improving the rights and conditions of garment workers across the globe. This special edition of our annual report aims to acknowledge the brands committing to stand with the workers during the crisis and motivate others to do the same."

Pictured, John Hickey, CEO

What consumers expect

Garment Workers

Research commissioned by BWAA prior to the COVID outbreak found that more than 80% of Australian consumers believe fashion companies have an ethical responsibility for the workers in their supply chains.

Director of Advocacy at BWAA Peter Keegan said, "it's important that Australian consumers know the choices they make in store or online have the power to pass on opportunity and dignity to workers, and sustainability to our world."

But, he says, challenges remain. "Embedding a vision and practice in the fashion world that treats all workers - regardless of where they work in the supply chain - with dignity and respect, is critical.

"It is key not only to the immediate COVID-19 response but also to the development of an industry made up of companies that are both good businesses and businesses that are good."

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