WASHINGTON (RNS)—The fashion industry continues to struggle with wage gaps and sustainability, according to a report from an Australian Baptist watchdog group, despite marked improvement in how the industry treats workers and sources its goods over the past few years.
Baptist World Aid Australia’s 2021 Ethical Fashion Report scorecard rated roughly 100 fashion companies, which averaged a score of 33.6 out of 100 compared with all industries the group tracks.
“We’ve seen considerable progress in the fashion industry and engaged with many brands that are committed to becoming more ethical and sustainable,” said Peter Keegan, Baptist World Aid’s director of advocacy. “But these grades and scores show us we’re not there yet.”
Baptist World Aid Australia has published the annual Ethical Fashion Report since 2013, as part of its efforts to alleviate global poverty and challenge injustice. According to the report, the global fashion industry, which employs some 50 million people, is one of the top five industries most at risk for complicity in modern slavery.
Group assigns ethical ratings to brands
Brands are rated in five categories, which include environmental sustainability, human rights monitoring and worker empowerment.
Using the organization’s Brand Finder, shoppers can compare the ethical ratings of their favorite brands, which receive grades from A+ through F based on a numerical score.
This year, 40 percent of companies improved their score compared with 2019, and the industry saw an overall increase in companies using sustainable fibers and tracing raw materials. Twenty companies earned an A+ and A, 55 received B or C and 23 received D or F.
Popular brands including H&M, Converse and Patagonia earned an A rating, while Roxy and Forever 21 earned an F.
The average company scored a D for work on wage improvement and worker unions. The report also found that only 15 percent of companies are paying workers in their supply chain a living wage, a drop from 20 percent in 2019.
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The report attributed the decline to pandemic-related losses, noting garment workers have collectively lost more than $16 billion in wages since COVID-19 began.
“Our research identified a vast gap between the ethical sourcing measures companies put in place, and real, tangible outcomes for garment workers,” said Chantelle Mayo, advocacy project manager for Baptist World Aid Australia. “That’s a big hurdle for any consumer trying to shop ethically, and an area we need to keep pressuring the fashion industry to address.”