Tearfund New Zealand reveals: How ethical is your outfit?

News 10/04/2019

More Kiwi fashion retailers are getting the tick of approval from a prominent charity group on how well they look after their workers and the environment.

Tearfund New Zealand launched its ethical fashion report on Wednesday, revealing its grades for 29 Kiwi fashion retailers on how they protect their workers and environment from exploitation.

The report, compiled with Baptist World Aid Australia, gave seven New Zealand companies a grade in the A range, up from five in 2018.

The best performing companies were Icebreaker, Freeset, Liminal, Kowtow, Kathmandu, Nature Baby, and AS Colour.

Each of these brands had been assessed throughout three stages of their production on five themes - policies, traceability and transparency, auditing and supplier relationships, worker empowerment, and environmental impact.

In the past year, 38 percent of the 130 companies included in the report improved their overall grade.

Tearfund chief executive Ian McInnes said Kiwi brands were also showing significant improvement.

All participating New Zealand companies, except one, have held or improved their grade in the last 12 months

"We commend all these companies for their consistent efforts to protect workers in their supply chain."

It was also the first year that companies were graded on environmental protection, which Tearfund's education and advocacy manager Claire Hart said was significant for the fashion industry.

"The fashion industry causes significant environmental degradation, which affects the wellbeing of workers, the community and their natural environment," said Hart.

"The production of clothing involves large quantities of harmful chemicals, a high volume of water and wastewater, as well as high emissions and general waste."

The report also found only five percent of companies paid the living wage to all workers at the final stage of production.

"These workers will be producing a vast number of clothes in any one day, so for a small tweak on the retail price, pass that through. You are making an enormous difference to the worker on the other end," McInnes told Newshub.

Some of our smallest members and some of the more niche ones, because they have set out right from the get go to be ethical, they do have a grip on their supply chain and they do receive a very high grade.

Kathmandu's corporate social responsibility manager Gary Shaw responded to the praised by saying the company wasn't interested in "ticking boxes".

"Maintaining our A-grade score is a great acknowledgement of the work we have done around worker wellbeing but also the work we have already done to reduce our environmental impact," said Shaw.

"The work is never finished, and we will continue to focus on sharing our vision and values with our production partners to ensure that they set a high standard for workers’ safety, empowerment and the environment."

The full report, including how 130 companies were graded on each theme and which companies didn't participate, can be found here.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor