As fashion’s sustainability claims become increasingly under the microscope, preventing greenwashing is still possible, an industry expert has stressed.
“The only way to resist greenwashing is to have access to information, to devote some time to that information and to be motivated to find out what the information is,” said Orsola de Castro, founder of Fashion Revolution, at the launch of the ad. The group’s annual Fashion Transparency Index in London last month.
Ranking the world’s 250 biggest fashion brands and retailers based on their publicly disclosed human rights and environmental policies, practices and impacts, the seventh edition provides a window into what these businesses are prepared to say about their offerings. Chain works, she said.
Companies are awarded 250 points out of a possible 250 in several categories, including purchasing practices, carbonation targets and sustainable materials. This is converted to percentage points, the higher the better.
“Once you speak the language, you can tell the difference,” De Castro said. “And when it comes to greenwashing, that’s a really important tool to identify what brands are doing and what they’re doing with what they’re doing.”
There is some progress in extracting lip service from companies rather than outright speaking. When the first fashion transparency index was released in 2016, only five out of 40 brands – 12.5 percent – were prepared to reveal any information about their inner workings. Today, 121 of the 250, or 48 percent, are open to investigation, perhaps fueled by calls for more information from investors and policymakers in the United States and the European Union.
While overall progress was ultimately “very slow,” the fashion revolution found that the industry had a long way to go before it began its mysterious addiction. Brands and retailers gained an average of 24 percent, or 1 percent more than last year. Nearly a third of companies, or 81 out of 250, scored less than 10 percent. 17 of them Ellie Tahari, Fashion Nova, Jil Sander and Tom Ford won at 0 percent. OVS, Kmart Australia and Target Australia were the only three brands to score above 70 per cent, none exceeded 80 per cent.
H&M, the subject of a class-action lawsuit over “false and misleading” environmental scorecards and ads, dropped from second place to fourth place with a score of 66 percent.
“I think we need to consider the gross domestic product of those brands that don’t provide any information,” Liv Simpliciano, director of policy and research at Fashion Revolution, said at the same event.
For Simpliciano, the results show that most costumers fail to meet what she calls the “bare minimum: to be honest and truthful about your business.” Even the low-hanging fruit, such as publishing a list of Tier 1 suppliers, was plucked by only 48 percent of the 250 companies, although 10 brands evaluated in the index last year did it for the first time, including Bali, Chloe, and estimates. And despite the increasing urgency of the climate crisis, less than a third of brands and retailers have shown that they are meeting their entire supply chain, not just carbon targets 1 and 2.
compared to results
Another problem, Simpliciano said, is that brands and retailers are revealing more information about their policies and promises than their results and impact. While 28 percent of companies are coming forward with the circular solutions they are developing, only 15 percent have disclosed their annual production volume and only 8 percent have shared their post-production waste volume.
“Brands never know how much they’re producing because no business is sustainable if they don’t know what they’re producing,” she said. “It is clear that they are choosing not to report this information, obscuring the impact of overproduction and overconsumption. For brands to remain vague about the size of their product, it shows that they are more interested in profiting from the problem than solving it.
While downsizing may seem like a “scary word” to the industry, she says it’s “absolutely” important. “By the way, we can’t afford to meet our ambitious carbon reduction targets by 2050,” Simpliciano said. “We are currently in a climate crisis. We have been issued a code red alert.
Other numbers are just as weak. 11 percent of brands and retailers publish their suppliers’ wastewater testing results, although the textile industry is a leading contributor to water pollution, only 24 percent of these disclose how to reduce the impact of microfibers, and a slightly higher 32 percent publish their manufacturing banned substance lists.
Regarding purchasing ethics, only 12 percent indicate how their purchasing practices affect suppliers and garment workers. Based on this, the majority of companies surveyed – or 94 percent – do not disclose the number of workers in their supply chain who are paying labor charges, painting a “vague picture of the risks of forced labour”. Equally striking, only 13 percent of companies disclose how many of their suppliers have unions.
Interestingly, a European citizens’ initiative to demand a living wage for garment workers, says Maeve Galvin, project manager of the Fashion Revolution, as well as director of global policy campaigns, says 84 percent of brands and retailers have published a policy stating their commitment to freedom. Association, the right to organize and collective bargaining at the supply chain level.
“This echoes what Liv said earlier, which is that well-written and very clear commitments are not supported by impact and performance data,” Galvin said. “So the gap between the 84 percent who are committed at the highest level and the 13 percent who say what the impact on the ground looks like is stark. And that’s consistent with what we know—the conditions for organizing collective bargaining are incredibly difficult in some places and impossible in others.” .
She said that when workers are unable to form a union, they cannot advocate for better working conditions and wage increases.
Gavin added: “Clothes producing countries are actually the worst places in the world for trade unions. “And that’s no accident. Cheap labor is linked to low-cost strategies and a business model. So again, what we want here is integrity, so that brands’ promises about freedom of association and collective bargaining are not inconsistent with what’s on the ground.”
Making unproven claims
Other differences abound. Another example: in the Fashion Revolution census, while almost half (46 percent) of brands and retailers set targets on sustainable materials, only 37 percent provided information on what constitutes sustainable materials.
This discrepancy is attracting growing regulatory scrutiny. For example, Norway’s consumer authority recently used Norrona’s comprehensive Higg Materials Sustainability Index to argue that its organic cotton t-shirts are better than conventional alternatives. (It’s not rated in the Fashion Transparency Index.) Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority warned Asos, Buhu and George at Asda last week that it would investigate whether their green talk held water. (They scored 51 percent, 27 percent, and 28 percent, respectively.)
Ciara Barry, policy and research co-ordinator at Fashion Revolution, said: “Really, brands shouldn’t be allowed to make claims about sustainable materials without explaining what they mean and backing it up with data.” Our area is where greenwashing is rampant. And we all know that greenwashing really thrives without research, which is why we can’t have unsubstantiated claims from brands.
Transparency, the concerns of a fashion revolution, should not be confused with sustainability. Even if a brand or retailer scores high on the index, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better socially or environmentally.
“Transparency is only the first step, but it is an important step,” De Castro said. “And it’s a more and more recognized first step that we all need to deal with an industry that is unscrutinized, opaque, and has deliberately set itself up to be that way.”
“We can’t fix what we can’t see,” she added. “Holding brands accountable and having the industry audited and scrutinized is the first step to understanding what they’re saying.”
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