A report that called out leading luxury and fast-fashion brands for a lack of visibility in their supply chains has been roundly criticized by the companies themselves as well as other nongovernmental organizations involved with workers’ rights and supply chain issues.
The study by the London-based group called Fashion Revolution and Ethical Consumer, which is a nonprofit magazine and Web site, created a Fashion Transparency Index that ranked more than 40 global retail companies based on their level of transparency and support of workers’ rights. Based on its own rankings, the group criticized luxury brands including Chanel, Hermès, Prada and Louis Vuitton for what it claimed was a lack of transparency, while praising Levi Strauss, Inditex, Nike, H&M and Adidas.
The group’s critical study was reported online by Vice and also picked up by Vogue.com.
But the index was based on methodology that immediately stirred criticism. WWD contacted a series of industry organizations that work on sustainability initiatives but they declined to comment. A spokesperson from one of the organizations said “it is really hard to comment on research that is so poorly executed and tells us nothing.”
The group said in the report that it received 10 questionnaires from brands and retailers out of a total of 40 that were sent to companies. While 10 of the companies received scores based on their replies to the questionnaires and other publicly available information, the other 30 companies were scored based solely on publicly available information on Web sites and in annual reports, from which the group’s researchers drew their own conclusions.
“For the companies that did not reply, it is impossible for our researchers to know anything beyond what they are communicating publicly online,” the report said. “Therefore these companies may have received lower scores while companies who did fill out the questionnaire had the opportunity to tell us more and thus potentially score higher,” the report said.
The group said companies could have their scores “updated” if new information is made available to its “research team.”
In a statement, a Chanel spokesman questioned the report, stating that it only highlights how well companies communicate their sustainability initiatives.
“This index in no way measures actions regarding social, societal and environmental responsibility, but only evaluates the communication policies of brands relative to these topics. Like three-quarters of the companies questioned, if Chanel chose not to answer the questionnaire, it is because the reality of our actions seems more important to us than any related media coverage. Chanel’s ready-to-wear products are manufactured exclusively in France, Italy and Scotland; this proximity allows us to be extremely familiar with our partners, most of whom have been working with us for many years. Furthermore, we perform regular audits of our subcontractors’ social, societal and environmental responsibility policies and actions. Chanel is extremely vigilant with regard to all ethical, social, societal and environmental issues in all of its fields of activity, even though this is not part of our communication strategy,” a company spokesman told WWD.
A Fendi spokesperson said, “Fendi is committed to promoting responsible relations with its partners, suppliers and subcontractors. It monitors, audits and evaluates its suppliers and constantly aims at improving situations that are suboptimal. Fendi shares common tools and organize training courses for suppliers in Asia, the U.S. and Europe.
We are compliant with the Suppliers Code of Conduct of LVMH and all its Maisons, available on The Group Web site as are the details of the relations with third parties [notably on pages 84-86 of the 2016 Document de reference].”
Fashion Revolution is a nonprofit organization based in the U.K. and was founded by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro following the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza. Before launching the organization, Somers operated her own sustainable label Pachacuti, as did de Castro who began upcycling in 1997 with her label From Somewhere. De Castro had also launched Esthetica under the British Fashion Council in 2006 which aimed to promote designers who worked sustainably.
Fashion Revolution said it selected brands with an annual turnover of more than 400 million pounds, or $575 million, at current exchange, as “those brands have the most to lose through lack of transparency, and the most to gain through better practice,” according to a Fashion Revolution spokeswoman.
The group said it took more than a year to put together the research. According to the organization, the survey revealed an absence in long-term thinking in brands’ sustainability strategies, with only 40 percent of the companies surveyed having a system in place to monitor labor standards.
According to the group, the survey takes a “bold brushstroke approach” to illustrate how much brands reveal about their supply chains. Some of the criteria used as part of the assessment include the standards and goals a company sets for the protection of workers, its engagements with NGOs or unions, and the ways a company checks its supply chains for compliance with international standards and local laws.
“The public do not have enough information about where and how their clothes are made. Shoppers have the right to know that their money is not supporting exploitation, human rights abuses and environment destruction,” Somers said.
Fashion Revolution said it plans to continue publishing the Fashion Transparency Index and will be including up to 100 brands as part of next year’s ranking.
As part of Fashion Revolution Week last week to mark the three-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the British MP Mary Creagh hosted a talk at the Houses of Parliament in London to discuss garment workers’ rights.
Speakers at the event included Livia Firth, the creative director of Eco-Age; Roberto Ridolfi, director of the European commission for sustainable growth and development; Jenny Holdcroft, policy director at global union IndustriALL; Mike Cain, shadow minister for international development, and Allanna McAspurn, chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization Made By.
The discussion quickly turned to the Brexit referendum, which will take place on June 23, and how Britian’s role in the EU impacts its support of workers’ rights.
“I believe we should remain in the European Union because it’s a world leader in advancing worker’s rights and protections. We heard last year that the EU has worked closely with the government of Bangladesh to change employment laws and improve factory standards and inspections after the Rana Plaza tragedy. It is vital for the U.K. fashion industry to understand how we can achieve change and improve the lives of garment workers around the globe,” Creagh said.
Firth shared a similar view. “United we are stronger, the matter is as simple as that for me,” she said, adding that garment workers’ rights would only be reinforced with robust legislation.
“Otherwise it’s difficult for brands to start talking about human rights,” Firth said. “Countries need to start speaking to each other and set transnational wages. In Bangladesh at the moment this is impossible because the factories are not communicating, they are being put against each other by the brands.”
The panel commended Hennes & Mauritz for its sustainability initiatives and for being transparent regarding issues such as workers’ rights. Last week, H&M announced its aim to become 100 percent circular and only use ethically sourced materials by 2020.
Firth added that a change in consumer attitudes is also essential. “Fashion is a feminist issue, as women of the West, why do we shop with this bulimia to constantly get something new and make a disservice to women on the other side of the world? Why do we want to wear the unhappy stories of other women?”