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Sustainable Fashion and The 2019 Tearfund Ethical Guide

Sustainable Fashion and The 2019 Tearfund Ethical Guide

It's April, it's almost Fashion Revolution Week, and the Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide for 2019 is here! It is a 100 page report that summarises the self evaluation of 130 companies in five key areas;

1. Policies - are there policies to make sure workers aren't being exploited?
2. Transparency and traceability - do the companies know who farmed, milled and made their goods and will reveal them, or will they DUN-DUN-DUN hide them?
3. Auditing and supplier relationships - do the companies go and check out that the policies are actually happening? Spoiler alert: Postie+ don't. So that rules out my next capri purchase dammit.
4. Worker empowerment - are the workers allowed to unionise, get paid fairly with a living wage, is their factory safe?
5. **NEW**: Environmental management - are companies aware of and mitigating their environmental impact?

There are many things I like about the guide.

  1. I love me some goss. I love seeing the grades come in, seeing who will participate, who won't, what companies have rolled up their sleeves, and what the hell happens in this industry we participate in.
  2. The questions asked aren't thought up by Tearfund but actual supply chain specialists, non-government organisations, and company experts drawing upon international standards. Like these big boys: International Labour Organization, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the United Nation’s Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. This makes it feel more legitimate and global to me.
  3. The Tearfund report is always quite positive. They focus on growth and highlight where the industry and companies could improve.
  4. I love that every year there is growth. Not just because of the guide of course, because sustainability is a global industry topic right now. There was a recorded 14-22% improvement in gender inequality, responsible purchasing practices, child and forced labour, and testing for hazardous substances in the last 12 months alone.
  5. And lastly, it puts my little life of privilege into perspective. We always comment on how we feel so helpless about the social and environmental problems about fast fashion, but the report reminds me that I do not feel more helpless than any of the 43 million workers in the Asia Pacific region that doesn't have an employer or government that values my time, safety or wellbeing. 

But there has been criticism about the report. For example, some local companies explain that it is a lengthy procedure and they have a limited team and resource. Other companies have come out saying that by revealing their suppliers opens them up to competition and people ripping off their designs. And lastly, it has (up until recently) been a point of contention that goods that are Made In New Zealand should not need to have their factories audited because New Zealand has health and safety and employment laws.

I think all of the above points are definitely understandable and arguably valid! However, my personal view is that organisations such as The Human Rights Watch and The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights believe that transparency is the best way to ensure the 450 million people work in supply chain-related jobs have basic human rights. And I believe them. Simply said, with less traceability comes greater risk.

By not being transparent, these companies cannot prove that their earlier stages of their supply chain (like cotton farmers) are safe and fairly paid. It is well documented that have a prominence of forced and child labour. They can't prove that the person in India tanning their leather isn't exposed to harsh chemicals. And they can't prove that their little leather tanning company isn't tipping those chemicals in to rivers and waterways that go out to the ocean. Side note: Did you know there is no zip manufacturer that can prove safe working conditions

"Transparency is a powerful tool for promoting corporate accountability for garment workers’ rights in global supply chains. It allows workers and labor and human rights advocates to alert the company to rights abuses in its supplier factories. Information about brands’ supplier factories facilitates faster access to grievance redress mechanisms for human rights abuses." (H.R.W)

So, whether a company chooses to engage with this guide or not, when companies choose not to be transparent, I simply just think that they are slowing down progress. Sustainability is what consumers want. Sustainability is the future. So when companies don't participate in transparency, it's almost like they aren't being 'fashion forward'.

What the guide explains and calls for is a living wage. I never fully understood the realities of this until I watched a Swedish miniseries called "Sweatshop" that sent influencers to Bangladesh to live like a garment worker. They worked all day in a hot, uncomfortable factory sewing one solitary un-inspiring shoulder seam and got paid something like $3.50 for their days work. What really got me was seeing how they went to the supermarket to buy groceries and couldn't afford anything! Here I was thinking, yes they get paid less, but their living costs must be so much smaller than ours being in "the third world". But literally, couldn't afford anything. They then went home to stay with these garment workers and saw that they have children, elderly, health needs. That $3.50 a day puts all of those in that household in to poverty. 


Textiles is one of the biggest exports for Asia-pacific countries. So that means they really bloody protect their investment by keeping their minimum wages low so companies don't go to a different country. The exploitation against their own people breaks my heart and makes me aware of just how lucky we are to win this lotto at birth.

And that's just the minimum wage. A living wage is what the Ethical Guide is calling for. That is enough to cover food, housing, and a bit left over so to save. Bangladesh's minimum wage is 280% less than what should be their living wage. Vietnam's is 50% less. The benefits of receiving a living wage would be nothing short of life-changing.  

This 2019 guide is the first time Tearfund has addressed the environmental impact. SO COOL. Tearfund asked whether the companies have a policy to address the production of materials, net-zero carbon emmission goal for 2050 to support the Paris agreement, the restriction of harmful chemical treatment to the clothing, wasting water resources, polluting waterways, material and product waste.

What I didn't know was that the environmental impact of the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global emissions. Up to 20,000 litres of water is needed to produce 1 kg of cotton — with it taking up to 2,700 litres to produce the cotton needed to make a single T-shirt. That is shocking. And then I read this: Globally, humans are consuming 800 billion new pieces of clothing per year, 400% more than we consumed two decades ago. THAT IS SO MUCH WATER. And we need water for other stuff! Like not dying!

A solution some companies have is to make synthetic fibres which use less water but create other effects, such as a significantly higher greenhouse gas emission footprint than cotton.


So to finish, I will do what we did last year I finished with some awards, so let's do that again! 

The 'MOST FAKE' Award is shared and goes to (so many, but namely): Uniqlo, Barkers, Huffer, Seed Heritage: These  companies ranked an A for simply *having a policy* but ranked as bad as possible to ensuring that that policy actually follows through. 
 The 'Most Believable Excuse' goes to Kate Sylvester who, though didn't get involved, co-created a collective group for buying and auditing with other NZ labels like Ruby! AND have made their sustainability goals and suppliers transparent publically (just not on this guide).
The 'Naturally Talented' Award goes to Karen Walker who didn't even apply, but judging off the information the company finally released publically gave her enough kudos to get a B. 
The 'Highschool Drop Out' Award goes to Farmers. Whereas their competitors are getting in and doing the mahi, they did not even try. Their the kids getting Did Not Sit on their NCEA exams.
The 'Most Improved' Award goes to AS Colour! And I am glad too because I need some more socks.
The "Most Likely To Succeed" Award of course goes to Kowtow. Female owned, New Zealand company, taking on the world. Getting A+s all over the place.

If you're wondering how you can help change any of this, learn about your consumer power.

Want to add an award, or have a comment? Let me know below in the comments!

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