Tess Nichol is the Consumer Affairs reporter for the Herald.

Kiwi companies come out on top in latest ethical fashion survey

High end fashion designer Karen Walker says her company is committed to policies which use ethical processes, from start to finish.  Photo / Nick Reed
High end fashion designer Karen Walker says her company is committed to policies which use ethical processes, from start to finish. Photo / Nick Reed

A report exposing worker exploitation in the fashion industry shows Kiwi-owned companies are more ethical on average than their international counterparts.

Baptist World Aid Australia's 2017 Ethical Fashion Report ranks companies from A to F based on a number of criteria including what they pay their staff and how supply chain workers are treated.

Overall, the 12 New Zealand-owned companies featured in the report scored a median grade of B-.

The international average for companies was a C+.

The first ethical fashion report was published in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed 1134 garment workers and has been published annually since.

Now, an accompanying guide for Kiwi shoppers is being launched by Tearfund New Zealand to help people "vote against exploitation with their wallet".

It shows 242 brands available in New Zealand and their associated rankings, based on the levels of visibility and transparency across their supply chain with regards to worker rights, policies and practices.

Glassons, which was slated in 2015 after receiving a D- ranking, has improved again this year, rising to a B- after scoring a C+ last year.

High-end retailer Karen Walker has also improved, rising from a C to a B+ and receiving a "most improved" accolade from the report's authors.

Walker told the Herald the company's policies were "rock solid" , but they had improved communication after last year's ranking to make sure everyone in the manufacturing process was aware of the label's policies.

"We've also gone even deeper in terms of auditing our supply chain so we now work right back to fabrics and trims, not just garment producers," she said.

Walker asked Baptist World Aid to work with her company in 2015 and encouraged other Kiwi companies to do the same.

"Designers, even those who manufacture in New Zealand may think that their systems comply 100 per cent and are completely ethical, but most would not be able to account for their entire supply chain.

"By going through this process with Baptist World Aid, brands will be able to identify any issues and flaws with their current systems and at any stage."

Organic clothing label Kowtow topped the list, scoring an A alongside custom print shop Liminal Apparel.

Art Director & Founder of Kowtow, Gosia Piatek, said the questions in the survey were "very stringent and a lot of supporting evidence has to be submitted".

"To be given the highest grade of all New Zealand fashion businesses shows that we really are who we say we are. No green washing."

"We are proud to show that you can have a successful fashion brand without compromising on sustainability and ethics.

"Conscious fashion is not a trend anymore - it's a fact and the only way forward. We're happy to be on top."

"We forget that it's all handmade: that there's a person operating that machine, or tucking that seam under with his or her finger."

Gosia Piatek, art director for Kowtow, which topped the list. Photo / Supplied
Gosia Piatek, art director for Kowtow, which topped the list. Photo / Supplied

Liminal also touted fair trade conditions and the use of organic, sustainable materials on their website.

Of the 12 Kiwi-owned companies, Farmers ranked the worst, receiving an F which the authors said was because the company didn't engage with the report, and had no publicly available information about its supply chain.

McInnes said it was disappointing that a well-known brand like Farmers, which many people had grown up shopping at, had refused to engage.

"I think Farmers, like all the companies in the guide, have been given every opportunity to respond and provide information for the guide.

Farmers did not respond to request for comment before deadline.

Icebreaker was also near the bottom of the list, scoring a D. The company did not respond on time for deadline.

Ezibuy was scored a C+ in the report.

Farmers has scored the worst possible ranking, an F, in the latest ethical fashion report. Photo/ Dean Purcell
Farmers has scored the worst possible ranking, an F, in the latest ethical fashion report. Photo/ Dean Purcell

Chief executive Tim Fawaz said it had a "pathway" developed for the next 12 months which included an increased focus on the Living Wage, leveraging its audit program and supplier relationships, further transparency and monitoring through the supply chain and "multi-stake holder engagement at grass roots to ensure we are hearing the voices of our workers".

He added: "We treat ethical sourcing very seriously and have developed a strong relationship with both our supplier base and Baptist World aid aimed at making sustainable and ongoing improvements to our current approach.

"We are continuing to make positive inroads towards improving our ethical sourcing rating and importantly we recognise that we need to do more to improve."

McInnes said he was pleased to offer Kiwis a practical tool to help in reducing worker exploitation and alleviating poverty within the Asia-Pacific region.

"Too many garment factory workers in the developing world work long hours in oppressive conditions to make the clothes we wear.

"The low pay they receive traps them and their families in a cycle of poverty, and that's quite frankly unacceptable."

Companies were assessed on 40 specific criteria across three critical stages of the supply chain.

These were grouped into four themes: policies, knowing your suppliers, auditing and supplier relationships and worker empowerment.

This year companies had noticeably improved at tracing their second-tier and raw material suppliers and making their full list of suppliers publicly available.

New Zealand-owned Kathmandu was mentioned in the report as a standout performer in tracing raw materials; 81 per cent of its cotton and 100 per cent of its down.

The proportion of companies offering better wages since 2013 had also grown, from 11 per cent to 42 per cent, but most were still not offering a living wage.

- NZ Herald

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