Covid Fashion Report 2020
It's that time of year again, where I read the 67 page Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide (now renamed as the Covid Fashion Report) so you don't have to!
If you are familiar with the annual report, you'll know that each brand is audited and ranked to show responsibility for their transparency and protocols of their supply chain, and for the safety and renumeration of the people who work there.
I am sure you know by now that Crushes is very (annoyingly) passionate about conscious consumerism and social justice! We have written about this over and over. We strongly rate the statement "every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in" with 5 stars: ★★★★★. So, guides like this can be extremely useful for those who are shopping on the go and want to give their hard-working dollars to brands who have deserved it. [Download it here].
But here's the real clincher, and the main thing you need to know before I unpack my learnings from this report; the fashion industry was broken before Covid interrupted it (with brands getting faster and faster, the pressure on the supply chain and the 50 million garment workers who sustain it was putting the environment and her people in dangerous situations, paying them unfairly by squeezing profit margins out of the manufacturing costs and wages, making goods we will hardly wear, creating emissions our climate cannot handle, and creating waste that our landfills aren't made for). And now there is Covid-19 which is putting even more financial and fiscal pressure on a broken industry, right on the backs of the worlds most vulnerable communities.
This is how Covid-19 effected 50 million garment workers:
- When the world paused and retail closed, many orders were cancelled, and many bills were left unpaid.
- When cancellations came and buyers refused to pay, suppliers carried the liability for already incurred costs for materials and wages. Lost earnings flowed through to workers’ employment and wages.
- In only 2 months, it is estimated $5.8 billion dollars were unpaid to garment workers around the world.
- Bangladesh was hit the hardest. In April, 1 million garment workers lost their jobs, and in May, 1/3rd Bangladesh workers reported their kids went without food.
This is where this special Covid Fashion Report comes in, because nothing holds a brand to account like the threat of showing their consumers about their transparency, or lack of. Remember, a truly naughty brand does anything to look sustainable and ethical by shrouding the facts because they know (and fear, that) consumers are more and more shifting their spending power to other responsible businesses. This report is asking for more than a brands Covid press release and asking for evidence before dishing out the grades. For example, while most companies may have been able to show some evidence that they maintained their orders, the truth is that in most cases, this happened with major adjustments, partial cancellations, the extension of payment terms, or imposition of discounts. The report showed only 25% of companies were able to prove partnership with suppliers that resulted in tangible changes, such as financial support or mutually negotiated order adjustments. You can see what companies were apart of that good bunch in the guide, here.
The report focuses and supports the workers by asking brands about if they have:
1. Honoured their supplier commitments - is there proof that these businesses maintained and paid for these orders?
2. Identified who is at greatest risk - like migrant workers, women and informal workers. All of who are most likely to get laid off without benefits, have missed or partial wages, their unions are busting, have forced overtime, and possible infection at work.
3. Listened to their voices and experiences - only 15% of businesses can prove that there was grievance mechanisms so workers can be heard
4. Ensured their rights and safety are respected - as you can imagine, a crowded factory is a high risk environment for exposure. The pressure to keep the goods being manufactured means job / food security for the worker and their family, even with the risk of potential infection back at work.
5. Collaborated with others to protect vulnerable workers - The report argues that the fashion companies are responsible to all stakeholders in their supply chains, and can contribute leadership to collaborative initiatives (between other companies, manufacturers, unions, and governments) to rebalance the underlying structural issues that reinforce their vulnerability.
6. Built back better for the workers and the world - The current challenges present an opportunity to reflect on the shortcomings of the fashion industry as
we know it and rebuild towards a more just and sustainable industry, post-COVID.
It's not all doom and gloom in the report :
- Cue purchased the abandoned fabric from cancelled orders from their manufacturers
- Hallensteins/Glassons created grievance mechanism that gives their workers; Consultants — educating workers on laws, regulations, life skills, and their rights, Counsellors — providing guidance and suggestions on how to move forward, and Complaints — achieving labour harmony for worker, supplier, and company through communication and remediation
- Those who have been working on transparency and un-earthing their subcontractors further down their supply chain in previous years had a better understanding of who their stakeholders are and now were able to better support them in this difficult time.
- Special mention to Ruby (not on the Fashion Report) for side stepping their business model and have made Liam Patterns which means that home sewers and those who opt out of consumerism (me!) can still interact with their brand in a safe and harmless way. Kudos!
I'd like to leave this article with some actions you can take away - a doggie bag of ethical tips, if you will!
1. Understand that your purchasing power is substantial because brands love their profits and will do anything to retain you as their customer.
2. If you have the privilege of being able to purchase from proven ethical brands, do it. You are supporting those who are making significant changes in millions of peoples life, impacting their family unit and communities.
3. Open up the conversation to your loved ones and get the dialogue growing.
4. You can write or call companies with poor performing grades that you would like to see them to continue improving their ethical sourcing practices. Brands have boardroom meetings about this kind of feedback and lots of companies are starting to hire their own in-house division of ethical resource - it really is helpful!
5. Just keep doing what your grandma did. Reduce, re-use, recycle so you can live that guilt-free fashion-maximist life.