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Australian Baptist Report Grades Fashion Companies’ Ethics

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This story has been revised after being notified that the Kmart and Target companies referenced in the report are Australian companies no longer affiliated with the U.S. companies.

Baptist World Aid Australia released a report this month grading fashion companies based on their ethical practices.

Although the report, called The Ethical Fashion Guide, evaluates fashion companies doing business in Australia, many of those graded are international corporations that also do business in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Baptist World Aid Australia, the aid and development arm of Australian Baptist Ministries (formerly known as the Baptist Union of Australia), created the report along with Not for Sale Australia (an anti-trafficking organization that is part of the Not for Sale movement started in the U.S. by David Batstone).

Out of 128 brands from 41 companies, only nine (7 percent) received an “A” grade, and only three of those – all fair-trade brands – received an “A+.” Meanwhile, 46 percent of brands received a “B,” 14 percent received a “C,” 24 percent received a “D,” and nearly 9 percent received an “F.”

In the introduction to The Ethical Fashion Guide, the intention of the report is explained as hoping to push both consumers and companies toward more ethical fashion.

“This guide seeks to empower consumers to purchase ethically, and by doing so, encourage companies to ensure workers are protected and not harmed, that they are rewarded, not exploited and that they work free from the tyranny of modern slavery,” the report’s introduction reads.

The report offers three assessments for each brand evaluated. First, the report issues grades based on 61 criteria, including factors like living wage and the sourcing of materials.

Second, the report notes which companies pay a living wage. Finally, the report indicates which companies have worked to avoid using cotton from Uzbekistan, where tens of thousands of children have been exploited through forced child labor to harvest the crops.

Some grades among the better-known brands:

â— Abercrombie and Fitch (D+)

â— Adidas (B+)

â— Banana Republic (B)

â— Converse (B)

â— DC (D+)

â— Forever 21 (D-)

â— Fruit of the Loom (D)

â— Gap (B)

â— Genuine Kids (D-)

â— Hanes (A-)

â— Hollister (D+)

â— Hush Puppies (B)

â— Jockey (B)

â— Lee Jeans (C+)

â— Levi Strauss (B)

â— Mossimo (B)

â— New Balance (B)

â— Nike (B)

â— Old Navy (B)

â— Osh Kosh (D-)

â— Playtex (A-)

â— Puma (B)

â— Quiksilver (D+)

â— Reebok (B+)

â— Skechers (F)

â— Spalding (C-)

â— The North Face (C+)

â— Timberland (A-)

â— Vans (C+)

â— Wonderbra (A-)

The report applauds less than 5 percent of the brands for paying a living wage. Another 25 percent of the brands received partial credit while just over 70 percent received a mark for not meeting living wage standards.

On the issue of Uzbekistani cotton, the report credits 60 percent of the brands for boycotting cotton from the central Asian nation. The other 40 percent of brands may not be using cotton from Uzbekistan but have not taken substantial efforts to avoid it.

Among the ethical issues the report judged, Baptist World Aid Australia’s advocacy manager, Gershon Nimbalker, particularly pointed to the problem that few companies knew the sources of the goods for their fashion items.

“One of the most troubling facts revealed by the research was that few companies actually knew all the suppliers responsible for producing the clothes they sold,” he explained as the report was released. “While 39% of companies knew all, or almost all, of the suppliers involved at the factory level, that number dropped dramatically to 7% at the raw materials stage of production.”

“If companies don’t know, or don’t care, who is producing their clothes, it’s much harder to know whether workers are exploited or even enslaved,” he added.

In a short video accompanying the report, Nimbalker argued that Christians must do more than just give money to help people in poverty.

“You and I can be part of a process that transforms global systems that maintain and entrench poverty – and it can all begin with a T-shirt,” he stated in the video.

As The Ethical Fashion Guide attracts media attention in Australia and elsewhere, it may help consumers shopping for fall fashions as well as publicly pressure companies to improve their ethical practices.

If so, the report will help Baptist World Aid Australia as it works to fulfill its mission of creating “a world where poverty has ended and all people enjoy the fullness of life God intends.”

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.