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Five New Zealand Brands Made The Top 20 Of Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Guide 2021

Who are they and how did others fare?

The Ethical Fashion Guide has just been released for 2021. An annual report by Tearfund NZ and Baptist World Aid Australia, it ranks fashion brands on their efforts to reduce their impact on the environment and improve working conditions, and has become a key metric for both industry and consumers as sustainability and ethics become increasingly important.

Tearfund graded 400 global brands from 98 companies from A+ to F, assessed across five key areas: environmental sustainability, policies and governance, tracing and risk, worker empowerment, supplier relationships and human rights monitoring.

Each assessment category contributed to a final score, totalling 1000. The mean score was 33.6 per cent.

  • A+ — Industry Leader, 75%+
  • A — Good Practice A 50-74%
  • B — Above Average B 33.6-49%
  • C — Below Average C 20-33.59%
  • D — Well Below Average D 5-19%
  • F — Barely Started F <5%

“About three-quarters of the 98 companies we assess actively participated in our research and submitted additional documentation to the research team,” says Claire Gray, Tearfund’s education and advocacy manager. Some companies chose to be assessed on publicly available information — transparency Tearfund applauds. “Many of the companies assessed solely on publicly available information still grade higher than the industry average.”

This year five New Zealand brands made the top 20. AS Colour, Hallenstein Glassons Holdings, Kathmandu and Macpac all received an A grade, while Joyya received an A+. “The majority of our New Zealand-headquartered companies have made progress over the past two years,” says Claire.

AS Colour tells us the brand is “really happy” with its result in the report.

“Seeing grades that reflect our efforts is a satisfying achievement and also instills a lot of pride throughout the company. It’s awesome being able to show the good things we do, for people and the planet and is a good reminder to ourselves and those reading the guide, that despite unpredictable setbacks you can still make ethical headway.”

Additionally, AS Colour, Macpac and Hallenstein Glassons Holdings — alongside Postie and Barkers — were among five local companies who, despite the tumultuous year with the impacts of Covid-19, managed to improve their grades.

Due to the pandemic, AS Colour and its suppliers were in and out of lockdowns, but maintaining their relationship via zoom helped foster some normality. “Regular virtual meetings with factories allows us to understand their capacities and what issues they are facing,” the brand tells Viva. “This means, with adjustments, we can continue with our Responsible Purchasing Practices, creating a steady flow of work for each of our suppliers, while also allowing delays without penalty.”

READ: Tearfund's 2020 Covid Fashion Report Reveals A Commitment From Local Brands

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the fashion industry, according to Tearfund. “Covid-19 has had a disproportionate effect on women in the garment industry who make up 80 per cent of the total workforce,” Claire says. “Women have faced disparate wage gaps, verbal and physical abuse, and discrimination, especially during layoff decisions. Many of the first furloughed or fired workers were pregnant women.”

AS Colour has recently partnered with social enterprise Reemi to support workers, especially women.

Gender discrimination is a growing area of focus for the Ethical Fashion Report. “In 2021, we found that only 21% of companies have a robust policy and implementation strategy to address gender discrimination in their supply chains and 39% of companies have nothing in place to address gender inequality.”

Tearfund says the key challenges facing the fashion industry now are modern slavery, climate change, and Covid-19.

As brands seek to improve their operations, shift to more responsible and sustainable businesses, more companies are tracing their raw material suppliers (60 per cent in 2021, up from 38 per cent in 2019) and far more brands are now using sustainable fibres (87 per cent this year, compared to 61 per cent in 2019).

Being graded can be a nerve-wracking experience for businesses, says AS Colour, but it found it a very positive exercise. “There is definitely a lot of work that goes into our involvement, but throughout the process, you get to highlight and look back on, the policies or work, you constantly chip away at. Through this process you gain a fresh perspective of their importance, while also seeing the areas we fall short in.”

“We chose to engage with the Ethical Fashion Guide, as we believe companies have a responsibility to minimise their footprint and use their power to make the future of their industry better. The EFG provides a level of accountability that aids brands responsibility. It’s also important to us that we track whether the work we are doing, is meeting the needs of our industry, and this report gives us a space to do that.”

Through its Ethical Fashion Guide, Tearfund aims to help consumers make educated choices and encourage businesses to be accountable – while acknowledging that though sustainable and ethical operating is a work in progress, change is possible.

“As consumers we can do two things. Firstly, we can use the Ethical Fashion Guide as a tool to continue to demand change from the fashion industry. When you shop from brands with good grades you are supporting fairer working conditions and more environmentally conscious production. Secondly, consumers can communicate directly with brands and encourage them to pay a living wage in their supply chain.”

Consumer pressure is important, and Tearfund encourages the community to let their feelings be known — especially for brands that either won’t participate or don’t have information publicly available, a category it’s concerned about. “These companies are falling behind the rest of the industry and need to be encouraged to start prioritizing ethical sourcing and share their efforts publicly.”

How did your favourite brand fare? Here are the grades for some of New Zealand’s familiar retailers. Find the complete list here

A – Adidas
A – AS Colour
A  Berlei
A – Bonds
A  Cos
A – Country Road
A – Glassons
A – H&M
A – Hallenstein Brothers
A – Icebreaker
A – Kathmandu
A – Lululemon
A – Macpac
A – Nike
A – Patagonia
A – Puma
A – Reebok
A – Rodd & Gunn
A – The North Face
A – Timberland
A – Trenery
A – Vans
A – Witchery
A – Zara
B – ASOS
B – Barkers*
B – Calvin Klein
B – Canterbury of New Zealand
B – Cotton On
B – David Jones
B – Gorman
B – Lacoste
B – Levi's*
B – New Balance
B – Rip Curl
B – Rolla's Jeans
B – Speedo
B – Tommy Hilfiger
C – Asics
C – Cue
C – Ezibuy
C – Jacqui E
C – Max*
C – Onitsuka Tiger
C – Oroton
C – Peter Alexander
C – Ralph Lauren & Polo by Ralph Lauren
C – Seed Heritage
C – The Warehouse*
C – Veronika Maine
D – Boohoo
D – Decjuba*^
D – R.M. Williams*^
F – Billabong*
F – Farmers*^
F – Quiksilver*^
F – Roxy*^

*Public information only. ^Insufficient information.

You can find the full 2021 Ethical Fashion Report and more information on the research methodology at Tearfund.org.nz/ethicalfashion

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