Ethical Fashion In 2020: Has The Fashion Industry Really Improved?

Before we dig into ethical fashion, let me remind you that today is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. It feels a bit of a strange to me. It is now April 2020, 21st century and we still need an international “celebration” to remind ourselves that people worldwide must work in a safe environment… Don’t you think it’s a bit funny?

We might counter argument that in developed countries such as in Europe, the US and in Australia, businesses guarantee safe working conditions. We would clearly be false, self-centred and ignore our responsibilities for the disasters happening in Asia because of our greed for fashion.

Back in 2018, I published two blog posts about the ethical issues raised by the fashion industry: The effects of fast fashion that you can find here and Fast Fashion Brands to avoid here.

Since then, I had noticed an increasing number of ethical and eco-friendly brands that promote fair and safe working conditions. I also did a few little happy dance when I read that fast fashion brands such as American Apparel closed and that Second-hand will be larger than fast fashion within 10 years.

However, what is the situation like today? Have the working conditions offered by the fashion industry worldwide really improved? Let’s have a look!

Some Steps Towards A More Ethical Fashion Industry

In 2016, Human Rights Watch in coalition with 8 organisations and global unions created the transparency pledge. The initiative aims to make the fashion supply chain more transparent in order to help protecting workers worldwide. Any brand that takes part to the transparency pledge must publish the names, addresses and contacts of their factories.

HRW believes that brands will be accountable for their actions if they provide their partners’ names. For instance, if there is an accident in a factory, we will now be able to link the factory to the brands they work with. As a result, the brands will be made responsible.

In 2019, the numbers of brands disclosing their partners tripled. However, only 35% of the 200 brands that are part of the movement implemented it. Read more.

Some other organisations followed the initiative. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) requires all its partners (including 50 brands and retailers) to publish their factory list by 01/03/2022. The brands will have their FLA status revoked if they do not comply.

The Dutch Agreement On Sustainable Garment And Textiles and the UK Ethical Tracking Initiative also take steps forward in order to make brands more transparent. Although they take smaller measures.

The Modern Slavery Act, effective since the 01/01/2019, requires brands with a revenue of more than $100 million, to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.  

So it seems that we move forward A More Ethical Fashion Industry. However, the efforts are not international and remain informal.

A Few Encouraging Data

According to Business Human Rights , in 2019:

45% of companies have introduced policies to improve working conditions. (18% increase since 2018)

35% of companies have robust remediation plans to redress child or forced labour if it is found in their supply chain. (17% increase since 2018)

35% of companies have a comprehensive action plan to ensure workers are not exposed to hazardous chemicals with dire environmental impacts. (14 increase since 2018)

So we are progressing.

But we lack Governance For An Ethical Fashion Breakthrough

If we look at the stats above, there is some progress, but this is far from enough. Thousands of brands still refuse to disclose information related to their supply chain. Why? Because so far, disclosure is voluntary! No law requires brands to be transparent, it is up to them.

Besides, organisations rely on the fact that transparency will make companies accountable and responsible of their actions. But obviously, once again, it is up to them. As Human Rights Watch mentions: “Transparency isn’t a panacea. A brand’s transparency about its sources doesn’t miraculously make the factory safer or ensure that workers earn a living wage. But it’s a step toward accountability and an important building block for decent working conditions.”

Finally, an  European Commission study reveals on the 24.02.2020 “that voluntary measures are failing, and that there is urgent need for regulatory action at EU level in order to protect workers, communities, and the environment from systematic, ongoing and worsening human rights and environmental impacts linked to the global supply chains of businesses and financial institutions.”

Very Little Tangible Results

So, it comes without surprise that despite of regulation intents and more transparency, the improvement of working conditions worldwide is not significant. Here are a few data to prove it.

According to the Fashion Transparency Index 2019, only 18.5% of the brands surveyed indicate how they work towards living wages in their supply chain. (Fashion Revolution)

80% of garment workers in Bangladesh have either seen or directly experienced sexual violence or harassment in the workplace as reported in Summer 2019 by ActionAid.

Only 5% of companies could demonstrate that they were paying a living wage to all workers at their final stage of production. Source

The improvement are way to small and we need to keep pushing.

What can you do?

Keep voting with your dollars or pounds or euros. Make sure that you buy from transparent brands. Find sustainable shopping ideas and a list of ethical fashion brands here.

Buy second hand when you can.

Support organizations that brings the change. Follow them, spread the word, sign petitions whenever they come up.

Save your political power. Vote for candidates that are aware of the issue and have a plan to solve it.

Written by Marine Leclerc, Founder of Attitude Organic