Just one-quarter of apparel giants are disclosing emissions from manufacturing and processing and less than one-fifth have revealed the carbon footprint of their raw materials, Fashion Revolution’s annual ranking of 250 of the world’s largest fashion retailers and brands has revealed.
The 2021 edition of the organisation’s Transparency Index, published today (7 July), analyses the reporting and other disclosure processes of the world’s largest fashion companies, covering information relating to human rights and environmental impact.
On the environmental impact piece, the Index assesses the extent to which brands are measuring and disclosing emissions from operations and the supply chain.
While disclosure was up year-on-year, less than two-thirds (62%) of the businesses assessed are disclosing the emissions footprint of their own facilities. That proportion shrinks to 26% for emissions from processing and manufacturing and 17% for emissions related to raw materials.
This finding is concerning, given that many of the brands assessed are signatories of one of the several industry coalitions working towards net-zero. Such initiatives include the UN Fashion Charter, WRAP’s Textiles 2030 scheme and the Fashion Pact, coordinated by Kering.
Moreover, with more than two-thirds of GDP now covered by net-zero targets, there will be a legal obligation for many fashion firms to decarbonise their value chains. With CDP estimating that the average business’ supply chain emissions are five-and-a-half times higher than those generated through their operations, this must be a key focus point in the net-zero transition.
Disclosure was also found to be weak on issues including tackling water pollution from dye-houses, increasing the use of recycled content in garments and recycling used products.
On recycled content, less than one-fifth (18%) of the brands publish their progress towards reducing the amount of virgin fossil-based synthetics used in products. A recent report from the Changing Markets Foundation found that the production of virgin polyester globally has doubled since 2000. Polyester is the most commonly used synthetic in the fashion space.
On recycling used garments, while one-third of the businesses describe having permanent clothing take-back schemes in place, only 22% disclose what happens to the clothes received through these schemes.
Slow progress on human rights disclosures
Fashion Revolution was founded in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013. More than 1,000 people died in the disaster and a further 2,500+ were injured. The factory complex was later found to be supplying products to the likes of Primark and Walmart. As such, advocating for ethical supply chains which protect the rights of garment workers is one of its primary focus areas.
The new Index reveals that 99% of the brands assessed are not disclosing the number of workers in their supply chain that are being paid a living wage. Most of that 99% are also not outlining plans on how they plan to achieve a living wage for all supply chain workers.
The Index also outlines how brands are largely either failing to assess the impact of the ongoing pandemic on their supply chain workers or failing to disclose related information.
Just 3% of the brands assessed are publicly disclosing the number of workers in their supply chains laid-off due to Covid-19. Also, less than one-fifth (18%) disclose the percentage of their complete or partial order cancellations and just one in ten publish a policy to pay suppliers within 60 days. Last year, many big-name brands were pressed to financially support supply chain workers by paying for orders through the #PayUp campaign. Several, including Asos, Next, Inditex, VF Corporation and Primark agreed to do so, but others, including URBN and the Arcadia Group, failed to engage.
Fashion Revolution said in a statement that the Index’s findings give an “incomplete picture” of the overall impact of the pandemic on garment workers.
“Brands have continued to profit throughout the pandemic whilst garment workers have endured the devastating impacts of their cancelled orders including unpaid wages, food insecurity, employment instability and poverty,” Fashion Revolution’s global policy director Sarah Ditty said.
Fashion Revolution’s Index highlights the need for legislation that requires transparency from brands on human rights and environmental issues, as disclosure on a voluntary basis has clearly proven insufficient.
It states: “While legislation has improved major brands’ level of transparency, better enforcement is needed to ensure truly impactful change. The research makes the case for stronger and better-enforced legislation to prevent human rights and environmental abuses, for fashion industry workers as well as requiring companies to monitor and report the outcomes of their efforts. When brands fail, the legislation should ensure meaningful sanctions and reparations for harms done.”
In related news, research commissioned by Hubbub and published this week by Seahorse Environmental has revealed the loopholes in the UK Government’s policy plans to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion.
According to the report, around two-thirds of the current policy interventions in place in the UK do not go beyond raising awareness of the environmental impacts of fast fashion with consumers. Of the one-third that are business-facing, none contain specific mandates on disclosure or time-bound targets. Instead, they offer advice and support on a voluntary basis.
Moreover, just 5% of policies contained any detail of budget to support their delivery.
The Committee is currently conducting a follow-up inquiry and hopes Ministers in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet will be more responsive to recommendations than those under Theresa May. Notably, the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced plans for a new Waste Prevention Programme that includes an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme for fashion and textiles businesses.
“If the Government is serious about meeting climate targets and ensuring fairer working conditions, then it has to ensure that the fashion industry operates to the highest environmental and social standards,” Hubbub chief executive Trewin Restorick said. “This research reveals a shocking absence of leadership resulting in a lack of impactful and systemic change within the fashion sector.”