Tearfund's ethical fashion report caused a stir among retailers - mostly those who didn't take part, but the relief and development group says it did not purposely mark down retailers who did not participate.
The report, released last month, graded New Zealand companies and brands on their ethical fashion practices and transparency throughout their supply chains.
READ MORE: • Ethical fashion: How do Kiwi retailers fare?
High-fashion Kiwi brand Trelise Cooper received the worst grading - an F.
Designer Trelise Cooper said the F rating was "not a reflection" of the brand.
"The F rating is not, in fact, a rating of Trelise Cooper or its ethics. It is simply a reflection of the fact Trelise Cooper did not participate in the survey," Cooper said.
"We certainly tried our best to cooperate with Tearfund. We told Tearfund we were happy to participate in next year's survey because at the time they approached us we were overseas, and then straight into the launch of a new collection.
"We simply did not have the time or capacity to respond to their survey and we asked that, since they had no information about our business practices, they leave us out. They chose to include us in spite of that."
Cooper said the brand had developed its own ethical code of conduct, which covered fair living wages, child labour and total hours of work.
After controversy around the grading system, Tearfund chief executive Ian McInnes told the Herald, it would be inaccurate to assume companies were graded an F if they did not participate in the research.
"Any brand that is included in the report will have been contacted numerous times by the research team. Those brands which chose not to engage with our research are graded by the information they have publicly available, such as codes of conduct, ethical supply chain policies and lists of suppliers," McInnes said.
"Some companies with high levels of transparency can rate as high as B- without participating in the survey." Such was the case with jeans company Levi Strauss, he said.
"This is because these companies have highly detailed information about their supply chains available. However, if the company has little information available publicly, they will likely to receive a poor grade," he said.
"In these cases, the company may have robust policies and practices, but their decision to not disclose these either publicly, or to our research team, means we are unable to verify these policies and practices. Consequently, as consumers, we cannot be sure the company is taking the necessary steps to reduce worker exploitation."
Companies that did not take part in the survey but still rated moderately included The Warehouse and Karen Walker, which were both graded a C.
McInnes said retailers and brands were given reasonable timeframes to complete the survey.
"We give companies just over four months to complete the survey; the reason for this timeframe is to ensure we give them enough time while ensuring we capture an accurate assessment of their current ethical practices."
Eighty per cent of the 114 companies surveyed submitted required information before deadline: "We receive very few complaints about the timeframe," he said.
Natalie Procter, founder of New Zealand-made fashion brand Mina, said she had seen the poor conditions fast fashion was produced in during a trip to India, which had steered her decision to get her clothing made locally.
If you want your brand to be around in 20 years, ethical practices need to be central to your business model as more consumers are beginning to ask questions and make more conscious purchases.
"I think here in New Zealand we feel so far removed from places such as Bangladesh, where a lot of our clothes are made, that we sort of choose to ignore the issues around our fashion industry," Procter said.
"I think brands are just trying to keep up with consumer demand of fashion that is fast and cheap. And unfortunately fast and cheap is generally not ethical. It's us as consumers who can make the biggest change because if we begin to demand quality in our clothing and quality of life for our workers then mainstream retailers have to meet these demands."
Procter said she did not believe it was hard to be an ethical retailer, and that consumers had the power to ensure fashion was made ethically.
"If you want your brand to be around in 20 years ethical practices need to be central to your business model as more and more consumers are beginning to ask questions and make more conscious purchases," she said.
"Consumers are slowly becoming more aware of the impacts of the fashion industry on our environment and those working within the supply chain."
McInnes said information about all major companies should be available to the public so consumers can ensure they're not buying clothes that could be made by exploited people.
Brands' ethical ratings this year vs last year
• AS Colour: C+, last year: B-
• Barkers: C+, last year: N/A
• Common Good: A+, last year: A
• Farmers: D-, last year: F (did not participate in 2018 research)
• Freeset: A+, last year: A-
• Glassons Hallensteins: B+, last year: B-
• Icebreaker: A+, last year: D-
• K&K: F, last year: N/A (did not participate in 2018 research)
• Kathmandu: A, last year: B+
• Karen Walker: C, last year: B+ (did not participate in 2018 research)
• Kowtow: A, last year: A
• Macpac: B, last year: B-
• Max: D+, last year: C (did not participate in 2018 research)
• Postie: C, last year: N/A
• Ruby: D+, last year: N/A
• T&T: F, last year: N/A (did not participate in 2018 research)
• The Warehouse: C, last year: C (did not participate in 2018 research)
• Trelise Cooper: F, last year: N/A (did not participate in 2018 research)