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Credit to ILO/Aaron Santos

The 'tl;dr' on the 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide

Thankfully a lot of people are sharing around the Tear Fund 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide (EFG), but the full document is a mega 99 pages, and you are time poor. So we thought we would break it down so you don't have to! Here is your 'tl;dr' guide. That is, too long, didn't read.

TL;DR // TOO LONG, DIDN'T READ                    

The EFG gives grades to brands based on four key areas.

  • Trace-abillity and Transparency - this is about knowing how the cotton that forms your t-shirt was grown, and can the farmer who grew it feed their family? Knowing who stitched the buttons onto your jeans and whether their hands are protected. Who dyed your fabric into that vibrant red that we freaking love this season and how is that impacting the environment? We can assume that those that don’t disclose their process are hiding something, and that’s not cool because people matter.
  • Policies - do the companies have policies in place to address the risk of worker exploitation in both supplier and subcontracted factories? Again, people matter.
  • Auditing and Supplier Relationships -  do the companies have ways to ensure their policies actually happen? VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION because intentions are not the same as action, my friends.
  • Worker Empowerment - do companies allow voices to be heard in the supply chain, like through trade unions, etc? And do they pay a living wage?

And within those four areas, it gets broken down again to the three stages of production:

  • Raw Materials (like farming)
  • Material Production
  • Final Stage Production (like factories)

Using this metric, lots of brands we know and love are then graded from A through to F. But don't get confused, the letters E and F are mostly reserved for brands who don't disclose enough information to make a proper judgment on their performance. They might not be the bad guys, but they also could be. JUST GIVE US THE INFORMATION GUYS! Much like your classic dtr, or that conversation with your flatmates about whose turn it is to do the dishes, this is where communication is key.


So, with that said, C'S DON'T GET DEGREES. That is, if you’re gunning for First Class Honours in your Bachelor Of Ethical Fashion Consumption, you’re going to want straight A’s. Take a brand like Gorman, average clothing price circa $250 AUD, graded C+. Seems like daylight robbery don't you think? Where is that money going if not to a transparent, fair, and ethical supply chain? And how many times have we been tricked by bloody (C+) Peter Alexander's freaking must-be-made-of-gold pyjama sets? Aim higher. We believe in you.

And note that the grading is really detailed and compartmentalised, so don't read the short versions at face value. For example, Kmart got a B+ which sounds so close to an A it’s insane, but when you break it down there’s a lot more going on behind that relatively decent grade. While Kmart deserves some credit for doing particularly well in some areas, it also performed pretty badly in others; specifically, they do well with transparency and trace-ability, but man oh man they have got crap worker empowerment. A D+ in fact. That means for your B+ and $8 t-shirt, you have paid a company to allow their good intentions to fall through to not having adequate unions and living wages.

Credit to ILO/Aaron Santos


  • Countries like China are improving their living wage steadily by 9.1~% every year, but profit focused fast fashion companies have moved their factories to other countries to avoid higher costs. These countries have worse labour standards that are withheld by corrupt, exploitative governments such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam who are seeing a growth in textile industries by 5-6%* every year. That is millions of people trapped in extreme poverty. 
  • The EFG has seen a 34% increase in companies now committed by putting in policies to improve living wages. Unfortunately, only 17% could prove that their workers were actually receiving their new wages. That is, only 1 in every 20 companies who are truely committed to paying their workers fairly. Ouch.
  • The UK, France and California have made it mandatory for companies to trace their supply chains to prove no risk of exploitation for foreign workers. Australia is following suit by the end of 2018, and New Zealand could do it too. 
  • This 2018 report shows for the first time that they are tracking gender issues such as policies to protect from sexual harrasment, physical abuse, discirmination in recruitment and equal pay. Tearfund will release this information and add gender equality to the grading process in the 2019 report. Looking forward to seeing the results for that one. 
  • All brands and companies who are 'Fairtrade' have excellent trace-ability to their workers and can therefore prove that they are not exploting workers and farmers. 


MY AWARDS:                                                     

So, Tear Fund has done a great job of grading, but I wanted to give some awards of my own:

The 'Can You Just Sort Your Shit Out' Award goes to all the Mall Bottom Dwellers. I'm looking at you TEMT, Valleygirl, Mirrou, Forever 21.
 The 'Most Surprising' Award goes to the Cotton On Groups. Holy crap guys, you clawed your way out of the pit of hell and we wanna thank ya.
The 'Damn! Why Don't I Just Always Shop There' Award goes to Kowtow. They're killing it overseas too, so we should be proud and $upportive. And their new range, ho' dang!
The 'I'm Not Angry, Just Disappointed' Award goes to Karen Walker. We'll trust you when you become transparent.
The 'I Have Got To Tell All The Mums To Stop Shopping There' Award goes to Ezibuy. 
And lastly, The 'Never Heard Of Them But I Will Give Them A Follow And Buy My Next Goods There' Award is Outland Denim. Some brand I've never heard of who got a 100% score. Shit yeah! 


EASY THINGS YOU CAN DO:                                

EASY THINGS YOU CAN DO:                                

1. Tell your brands what you think about their score. They need happy customers to make those happy profits. Get mad. Do it in public. Call for change! Just look at the positive changes brands like Glassons, Cotton On and even most-hated H&M have made over the last two years because their customers got mad. Remember, you have consumer power. In fact, the EFG has made companies increase their transparency and traceability by 59% and even more so in their raw materials by 147%. And 83% more companies are now putting in places Policies and Auditing.

2. Shop from the A graders! Those companies will have worked tirelessly to show they care about these values, so let's support them. They put their money where their mouth is. Let’s do the same.

3. A handy app you can download for shopping on the go is called 'Good On You'. It gives you three categories for ratings; Labour, Environmental Impact, and Animal Welfare. Our staff use this all the time!

4. Change your spending habits. A lot of the worlds broader issues come from us consuming too much, consuming too recklessly. Yes, it exploits people, and it is also affecting our environment. Watch The Minimalist or The True Cost for some inspiration. 

5. And if you must buy something, why not BUY SECOND-HAND? I don't believe this is the time or place to advertise what we do. But consider going first to your local op-shop when you need to buy anything. I sometimes even find brand new hosiery and socks still in their original packaging! Shopping this way automatically relinquishes you from having to consider so many of these factors, but more about the benefits of going vintage later.

You can keep up to date with our vintage campaigns, and more about our focus on social justice and conscious consumerism on our instagram. 

Marie Wade for The Bread and Butter Letter

BITE SIZED FACTS :                                             

The fashion industry has the most labour-intensive processes, therefore it employs a significant amount of people who are vulnerable like women, migrants, and young people.
 100 million households who work as rural cotton farmers are living in poverty, with little negotiation power to avoid exploitation from larger, profit focused companies.
Asia-Pacific governments fail their people with corruption, exploitative tendencies and not ensuring the safety or living wages for their workers.
Asia-Pacific textile industries still have a large concern for the presence of slavery and forced labour (14.94 million*), as well as child labour (108 million*)
The EFG argues that the living wages should be a human right. Cambodia pays garment workers 280%~ less than their living wage and Vietnam pay 189% less. 
Safety for workers is a concern. Since the Rana Plaza Tragedy, Bangladesh has made changes towards protecting workers with a legally binding agreement between companies and unions. It expires shortly, and 3/4 of companies will not re-sign.
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S - April 25, 2018

Thanks for such an informative read! Personally I would’ve given Karen Walker the “I’m not just disappointed, I’m angry award.” Where are her morals in running her business?

Heather Ameye-Bevers - April 24, 2018

This has been such a great read. I’ve lived your research, your passion and your humour but most of all I appreciate that you’re calling us to be better informed consumers so that our buying or recycked buying is making a difference on so many levels. Please keep communicating and keep inviting us to do not what’s easiest but what’s best

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