It is estimated that around two-thirds of the climate impact over the lifetime of a garment occurs at the raw materials stage. We, therefore, marked some companies down on the Ethiscore table under Climate Change.
Companies lost half a mark for being named as ‘least engaged’ in the House of Common’s ‘Fixing Fashion 2019’ report (see our guide to fast fashion for more on this). They also lost half a mark if, in line with the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report produced by Baptist World Aid, they had not assessed the environmental impact of the top three fibres and materials they used and implemented these learnings into product design and production, and did not have at least 1% of their products made from ‘sustainable fibres’.
One of the most pressing issues in the sector is the use of toxic chemicals. The chemicals are used in dyes, for cleaning and fireproofing, as antifungals, for water and stain-proofing, as solvents and as pigments. These hazardous chemicals have been found in effluent from supply chain manufacturers, in products and in the environment, despite decades of regulation and corporate responsibility programmes.
For local communities living near manufacturing facilities, water pollution has become a daily reality. Attempts to address this problem have typically involved setting and tightening the legal limits for the discharge and release of a relatively narrow range of hazardous chemicals
This ‘legalised pollution’ has not prevented the continuing release of toxic chemicals. But, for persistent, hazardous chemicals, like heavy metals, PFCs or phthalates, there is no ‘safe’ level.
How we rated the companies on toxic chemicals
- Companies in all the guides included in this issue lost a mark under Pollution & Toxics unless they had one of the following:
- They used 100% sustainably sourced materials (i.e. organic, recycled or cotton sourced under the Better Cotton Initiative,
- Were listed as a leader in the Greenpeace Detox campaign,
- Were a small company only selling sustainable, alternative clothing.
- If a company had a target for the zero discharge of hazardous chemicals or more than 50% of sustainably sourced materials, then it got our middle rating.
A company that had none of the above got our worst rating.
Only two companies on our table (Inditex and H&M) are highlighted by the Greenpeace Detox campaign as leading the industry to a toxic-free future, with “credible timelines, concrete actions and on-the-ground implementation”.
The pressure to produce ever-faster also creates problems for workers in producer factories.
The situation is particularly bad in Bangladesh, where protests in 2018 against the minimum wage of less than half a dollar an hour, led to over 11,000 workers being fired. The Bangladesh Accord is now under threat too. This was set up after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013.
Also, out of that disaster came the excellent Fashion Revolution campaign. It has a website full of resources for taking action, from the hashtag #whomademyclothes to question brands on social media, to postcard templates for writing to policymakers.
Unusually for one of our guides, all the companies in this report lost marks in our Workers’ Rights category due to a wide range of campaign reports criticising clothing companies for the treatment of people in their supply chains. More details are available for logged-in subscribers on our website.
We also rated companies’ Supply Chain Management systems to see whether they addressed some of the key workers’ rights problems.
Companies were also assessed for Animal Rights (in relation to using animal products such as leather, merino wool, silk, goose and duck down angora or fur), and several lost marks for Animal Testing as they sold perfumes as well as clothes.
If they sold cosmetics they were also rated for their palm oil practices as palm derivatives are widely used in body care and makeup.
For the first time, perplexingly, we have discovered companies (including TK Maxx and Amazon) being criticised for using real fur labelled as fake!
We found that most companies in these guides sold leather items – either clothing, shoes or accessories like bags and belts. Aside from the obvious animal rights issue there, there are other problems with leather including pollution from toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, forced labour, and deforestation for cattle ranching.