In the fashion industry, brands often make false promises and claims when it comes to how employees are treated throughout their supply chains. As consumers, we often hear promises such as “our work environments are safe,” factories conduct internal audits for worker wellbeing,” and “garment workers are guaranteed a living wage.”
But unless brands can verify these statements with traceable information, the claims remain unsubstantiated, and harmful practices that are rife in the fashion industry remain unchecked and run rampant.
While worker pay has gone up in some nations, it rarely keeps pace with the cost of living and inflation.
This is where Remake’s 2022 Fashion Accountability Report comes into play. With this report, Remake has placed a magnifying glass on some of the largest players in the fashion industry. The report closely examines brand practices, calling out the useless language that companies utilize in hopes of garnering public approval without actually coming through with worker-first policies and practices.
The report looks at 58 of the largest brands in the fashion industry, including fast fashion, luxury, and big box retail brands. These brands have an annual revenue of over $100 million. For the report, Remake chose to examine and score brands that are large and influential enough to create systemic change with the fashion industry, while also highlighting a few smaller sustainable brands that conscious consumers might instead consider supporting the next time they are in need of purchasing a new garment.
— Remake (@remakeourworld) June 15, 2022
Each brand in the report was scored across six categories: Traceability, Wages and Wellbeing, Commercial Practices, Raw Materials, Environmental Justice, and Governance. A perfect score would total 150 points.
Remake’s Fashion Report is designed to encourage companies to fully trace and measure the impacts of their supply chains so that they may set ambitious targets to mitigate their negative social and environmental footprints, as well as to ensure that there is a way for these companies to be publicly held accountable for meeting these targets.
Increasingly, Remake has seen that implementing binding policy changes has drastically impacted the fashion industry and is gaining traction globally. However, there is still much work to do to ensure brands are transparent and accountable. The report highlights that “we need voluntary action to be replaced with and bolstered by bold policies and binding agreements.”
In this piece, we’ll examine the “Wages and Wellbeing” section of the report, looking at scores and trends throughout the brands included.
Wages and Wellbeing
The Wages and Wellbeing section of the report examines a variety of aspects of both indirect and direct employee working conditions and pay. For example, do employees have the right to organize and participate in collective bargaining? Are employees working in a unionized factory? Are employees throughout a brand’s supply chain (everyone from corporate, retail, warehouse, photographers, models, drivers, garment workers, etc.) paid a living wage?
Only 7% of companies included details about working towards a living wage.
When it comes to living wages, companies must demonstrate the methodology they use to define a living wage for their employees, rather than just use the term generically. Additionally, brands must demonstrate that wages are increasing on a yearly basis because, as the report highlights, “while worker pay has gone up in some nations, it rarely keeps pace with the cost of living and inflation.”
Claiming to pay living wages while not providing evidence is a major red flag. Companies have abused this practice for decades, with no paper trail or public accountability to substantiate their claims, and subsequently, no liability on the brands’ part when garment workers are not paid a legal wage (let alone a living wage), which is a rampant practice in the fashion industry.
Where are Brands Doing Well? Where are Brands Doing Poorly?
The average score of the Wages and Wellbeing section of the report was two points out of a possible 32. That’s a measly 6.3%. While brand averages across all sections of the report were abysmal (no section had a score higher than 11.3%), the Wages and Wellbeing section is the lowest score of all six sections. Brands have astronomical room for growth in their business practices of providing fair and equitable working conditions within their operations, and ensuring that all participants in their supply chain operate in the same manner.
0% of companies demonstrate practices that guarantee that suppliers pay fair wages to their employees.
The report notes that only 7% of companies included details about working towards a living wage. Only one company (1.7%), Patagonia, published detailed goals and progress about working toward providing living wages.
The report highlights that some brands are taking steps toward a living wage, notably by working with unionized factories, supporting retail worker unionization, or, for one company, ensuring that some garment workers are paid for regular, overtime, and severance pay.
But despite some attempts to improve conditions leading to a living wage, zero (0%) of companies paid all of their indirect workers, such as garment workers, drivers, warehouse workers, and models a living wage.
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Further findings included that 9% of companies showed that some direct employees make a living wage; 10% of companies included the rates of unionization and/or collection bargaining in their Tier 1 factories; 17% of companies provided support to direct employees in terms of trade union participation; 45% of brands, at the start of the pandemic, paid for orders (though none have created a strategy for future plans when pulling out of a contract); and, most notably, 0% of companies demonstrated practices that guarantee that suppliers pay fair wages to their employees.
Companies Need To Demonstrate Commitment & Transparency
In order to be able to ensure that basic human, labor, and environmental rights are being met, companies must know every aspect of their supply chain. Without an ability to demonstrate that all actors in their supply chain pay living wages and provide a safe and equitable working environment for employees, brands will continue to score extremely low on the wages and wellbeing section. The report notes, “the majority of the industry knows little, or reveals little, about where it manufactures its goods.” The industry has a long way to go.
Unionized workforces are key to increasing wages and bettering working conditions across all industries.
And publishing their supply chain is just a first step for brands in demonstrating a commitment to wages and wellbeing. Brands must utilize factories that provide the right for employees to unionize. As the report notes, “unionized workforces are key to increasing wages and bettering working conditions across all industries.” Putting power in the hands of the workers is key to equitable work environments.
Aside from knowing their supply chain, brands must support local and global initiatives that promote employee wellbeing. The #Payup campaign worked to provide garment workers with pay for unpaid work at the start of the pandemic. And the International Accord promotes safe workplaces for garment workers. If brands did not and do not support these critical campaigns, they are far from demonstrating efforts to provide living wages and a safe work environment to actors throughout their supply chains.
Intersectionality in Fashion
One finding in the report is that brands are currently more focused on environmental efforts than labor and human rights issues. As brands seek to reduce their environmental impacts by creating new business strategies, how are they providing considerations for their employees? The report found that “zero (0%) companies demonstrated that they place the well-being of their employees and the workers along their value chains at the center of their business model transition plan.”
Reducing the harmful environmental impacts of the industry certainly must be a priority for brands, but not at the expense of their employees. Brands must take into account their various stakeholders, including both their employees and the environment, as they work to both reduce their environmental impact and create equitable work environments.
Curious what your favorite brand’s score is? The report provides the score of each brand, as well as a summary description of their high and low points. You can use these scores as you make purchasing decisions, and to learn more about what brands need to do to provide for and protect workers throughout their supply chain.
Unsubstantiated claims mean nothing. Through Remake’s comprehensive report, find out how brands are operating, and use your purchasing and advocacy power to continue to fight for justice for workers in the fashion industry.
Search the Remake Brand Directory to learn more about your favorite (and least favorite) fashion brands
Image: Flickr – E. Tuyay / ILO