2020 has been a year like no other. COVID-19 has swept across the planet, sparking subsequent health, economic, and humanitarian crises. Millions of garment workers have lost their jobs and wages. Fashion companies have faced declining sales. Consumers’ lives have been disrupted.
In response to this global crisis, the approach to this research required adjustment this year. Several key factors shaped the decision to change approach for 2020:
These factors meant that the detailed, long-term, and systemic approach of the regular Ethical Fashion Report needed to be replaced, in favour of a more immediate question: “What steps and measures are you taking to protect and support the most vulnerable workers in your supply chain?”
For these reasons, we have chosen to shift our focus – with the intention to be more impactful to the immediate risks that workers face.
Distilling the essence of the issues normally examined in the Ethical Fashion Report to those most salient to the COVID-19 crisis, six key commitments that fashion companies need to make to their supply chain workers were identified:
The COVID Fashion Commitments
In the face of the devastating impact of coronavirus on garment workers we commit to working together to do all we can to:
These commitments are aligned with global initiatives such as the International Labour Organization’s Call to Action, as well as calls from other civil society groups. Baptist World Aid is committed to collaborating with stakeholders across the industry to meet our shared vision.
The COVID Fashion Report identifies and recognises the immediate actions and initiatives that have been implemented by companies in response to the COVID-19 crisis. It adopts a targeted and simplified methodology which covers the key elements – albeit not the full scope – of the regular Ethical Fashion Report, and seeks to provide a comprehensive picture of the response of individual companies and the industry as a whole to the question: what steps and measures are you taking to protect and support the most vulnerable workers in your supply chain?
This approach departs from the regular Ethical Fashion Report research process which assesses the systems in place across a company’s entire supply chain. It assumes relative stability in that supply chain and a high degree of engagement from companies and/or public disclosure of ethical sourcing practices. These remain critical and will again form the basis of the research process and Ethical Fashion Report that will be published in 2021. However, these conditions of stability in supply chains and capacity in fashion companies were not present in the crucial early stages of the pandemic, which overlapped with the research period for this report between March and July 2020.
Key differences between the COVID Fashion Report and the regular Ethical Fashion Report
|COVID Fashion Report 2020||2019 Ethical Fashion Report (and forthcoming 2021 Ethical Fashion Report)|
|Identifies the actions companies have undertaken to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 as faced by their supply chain workers||Identifies the ethical policies, frameworks, systems and practices companies have in place across their supply chains to ensure labour rights and environmental sustainability|
|Simplified rating that identifies whether companies could show evidence of actions that address ALL/SOME/NONE of the areas covered by the COVID Fashion Commitments||Relative grading system that rates companies from A+ to F based on how their labour rights and environmental sustainability systems and practices compare to their peers|
|Companies asked to provide a single consolidated response that addresses actions taken across all tiers of their traced supply chain.||Companies asked to disaggregate evidence and responses into three supply chain tiers: final production, inputs, and raw materials.|
The ultimate goal of this project remains consistent: to work collaboratively alongside companies in the fashion industry to contribute to the improving the economic dignity of workers by ending worker exploitation, alleviating poverty, and building environmental sustainability. As such, in the context of COVID-19 this project has not only been about assessing what companies have done, but also providing resources and engagement to drive further improvement and further action.
2020 Brand Results can be found in the COVID Fashion Report. We also have a Brand Finder on the Baptist World Aid website which allows you to see a brand’s COVID Response in 2020. Brand Ethical Fashion grades from the 2019 Report are also provided for reference.
The rating in the COVID Fashion Report is intentionally distinctly different from our regular (A+ to F) grading approach.
Our research this year is focused on identifying and recognising the tangible actions that companies have taken to support to the workers in their supply chain – and those that haven’t. The report distinguishes between companies that have:
Given the specific focus of these ratings, they are not directly comparable with the usual A+ to F grading. Nevertheless, there is a strong correlation between the companies that had the most robust ethical practices coming into the crisis, and those who have responded most effectively in 2020. Historically high performing companies (those who achieved a B+ or above in 2019) were nearly 7 times more likely to demonstrate evidence of action in ALL commitments than those who have historically had weaker performance (C- or below in 2019).
A new set of grades will be published in 2021. In the meantime, you can still find companies’ 2019 grades alongside their COVID Fashion Commitment response on our website.
96 companies covering 428 brands were included within the scope of this research.
During the COVID-19 crisis, no new companies have been added to the company list assessed in 2019. All previously assessed companies estimated to have an annual revenue in excess of AUD $50 million in 2019 (in line with the NSW Modern Slavery Act threshold) have been automatically included, as were New Zealand-based companies with an estimated annual revenue in excess of NZ $30 million. Companies below these thresholds were given the option to participate. This selection process ensures the largest companies with the greatest consumer reach and subsequent impact on workers are included, while smaller companies that have prioritised ethical sourcing are also able to participate and have their efforts recognised.
Short answer: they’re not!
For the COVID Fashion Report, all companies have been assessed on information published on company or brand websites, company reports (e.g. Annual Reports, Corporate Social Responsibility Reports), and any relevant statutory statements (e.g. Modern Slavery Statements) that directly cover the period since the outbreak of COVID-19. All companies were also given the opportunity to provide evidence directly to the research team. Approximately 2/3 of the companies assessed (67%) provided additional evidence. Where companies have been assessed on public information only, this is identified in the Report and Brand Finder with an asterisk (*) next to their name.
Companies may prefer to disclose their supply chain management practices publicly, instead of responding to our research (e.g. they might be surveyed by multiple research projects or they might prefer a single public disclosure, rather than disclosing through the survey). By assessing companies on publicly available information we can give due credit to these efforts. In the history of our research, non-responsive companies have received a wide range of grades based on their publicly available information.
In the context of COVID-19, we recognise that a variety of factors may have contributed to comprehensiveness of evidence provided by companies – from impediments created by the furloughing of staff or legal requirements for companies trading in administration, to companies that may have taken more deliberate decisions to neglect their supply chain responsibilities. It is important therefore to note that the ratings provided in the Report reflect evidenced actions.
We recognise that some companies may have undertaken positive actions that are not reflected in our assessment, as these were not evidenced. While any positive actions that contribute to the economic dignity and wellbeing of workers are to be celebrated; transparency and visibility of these actions is critical as they are the only way to ensure accountability for delivery.
Our company selection process ensures the largest companies with the greatest consumer reach and subsequent impact on workers are included in our research. From 2020, smaller companies that have prioritised ethical sourcing are also invited to opt-in to participate and have their efforts recognised.
Baptist World Aid acknowledge that the Ethical Fashion Report and Guide have played a significant role in highlighting the ethical practices of brands in the Australian market. This has sparked interest from many small brands that believe they have ethical systems and desire to have their brand highlighted by the Report. While we believe that it is important to include smaller ethical brands that demonstrate best practice in labour rights management, often through alternative business models, the impact of including large brands can’t be underestimated. Our key objective is making the biggest impact in ending exploitation for garment workers, and this can only be done through changing the practices of the biggest fashion brands. By creating a shift in the fashion industry that sees both small and large brands move towards better human rights practices, the lives of millions of garment workers around the world can be impacted for good.
Many companies have a wide array of brands or, in some cases, separate corporate entities that are held by their company structure. Some companies (like the major department stores) will have a variety of arrangements with the brands stocked by their stores – including private label, exclusive brands, and non-exclusive brands. In such circumstances, our grading process only considers those brands that are owned or exclusively distributed by these department stores. This can mean that, in the case of some department stores, our grading will only apply to a small portion of what they retail.
Where companies have separate corporate entities or brands that use differing labour rights systems, then we grade them separately (wherever this has been indicated to us).
COVID Fashion Commitment 6 – ‘Build back better for workers and the world’ – focuses on companies’ ongoing commitment to environmental sustainability in their supply chains. Head to page 50of the COVID Fashion Report.
The new COVID Fashion Guide also provides key information, tools and tips for you to make more environmentally conscious shopping decisions. Download the guide here.
We began to include greater focus on environmental sustainability in companies’ supply chains in the 2018 and 2019 Ethical Fashion Report (and this is reflected in the 2019 grades still available on our website). In 2021 and beyond this will continue to be an increasingly important element of our research with companies, consumers, and the industry as a whole.
You can download/order the COVID Fashion Guide and take it with you when you go shopping to empower you to make more conscious every day ethical purchasing decisions.
We also encourage you to write to the companies we assess and directly inform them that you are a customer who would like to see them guarantee the workers in their supply chain a living wage. Use our Brand Finder to ask the brands you love to commit to more ethical practices. Encourage the report’s best performers and thank them for their efforts in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. YOU have the power to pass on opportunity and dignity to workers, and sustainability to our planet.
After making your own best effort to buy ethically, why not grow your impact by investing in work that is driving change through supply chains. Baptist World Aid works at strategic points – from community development projects in major garment producing countries, to advocacy with fashion companies, and consumer education tools (like this one!) – to drive change.
The latest edition of the COVID Fashion Report grades 407 fashion brands on the systems they have in place to mitigate the risk of slavery in their supply chains.