Dr. RayeCarol Cavender is a Fashion Marketing professor whose research and classes focus on sustainable fashion. Dr. Cavender is a member of the International Textile and Apparel Association, the American Collegiate Retailing Association, and the National Retail Federation.
What can we do to hold big businesses accountable?
READ! You have to find the information on companies’ sustainability practices, or lack thereof, determine what is credible information and what is greenwashing, and make your decision on which brands you want to support.
Here are my top 6 recommendations and actions to get you started on holding big businesses accountable:
- Pressure clothing brands to support workers by signing Human Rights Watch’s Transparency Pledge.
- Understand why supply chain transparency in the fashion industry is extremely important and what kind of companies can support transparency.
For example, companies that are vertically integrated are involved in the creation, development, and distribution of a product. Because they have more oversight on production processes across their supply chains, they can better ensure that sustainability standards are upheld.
Companies that are not vertically integrated, however, work with suppliers and therefore don’t have as much control on production processes. Therefore, from fiber production to assembling and packaging the final garment, all suppliers should be transparent about their working conditions, environmental impact on the local area, and treatment of workers, among other concerns. Companies that are serious about sustainability should quit working with suppliers if any of these violations are revealed and not resolved.
When suppliers cover up these types of violations, it is impossible for companies to know what is actually going on. This underscores the argument for companies to build long-term relationships with suppliers they trust instead of continuously identifying suppliers that can provide services and materials at a lower cost.
Learn more from this article, “Follow the Thread,” which provides a great visual of the complex global apparel supply chain.
- Hold the fashion industry accountable and “vote with your dollars.”
Only support businesses that provide transparent information about suppliers, working conditions, and materials on their websites. This industry can be dangerous, especially for the world’s most vulnerable populations.
- Get involved with campaigns like Fashion Revolution Week.
Aside from information that is compiled by advocacy groups, there is no centrally available public repository that tracks which apparel companies are publicly disclosing information about their suppliers’ factories. However, each year, Fashion Revolution publishes its “Fashion Transparency Index,” which ranks 250 of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers according to how much they disclose about their social and environmental policies, practices, and impacts.
- Sign the Pay Up Fashion’s petition to hold brands accountable and build a fair future for garment workers.
The Pay Up petition identifies seven areas where brands should invest in sustainability and identify metrics to track their progress: #PayUp, Keep Workers Safe, Go Transparent, Give Workers Center Stage, Sign Enforceable Contracts, End Starvation Wages, and Help Pass Law. Companies should use outside auditors to assess their progress. However, in many cases, because there are no industry standards for sustainability, brands assess their own progress and self-report.
- Learn more about greenwashing and educate yourself by reading “Is There a Sustainable Certification for Clothing? [Your Guide to Eco- Friendly and Ethical Labels].”
Greenwashing is when a company focuses more on marketing itself as environmentally conscious instead of actually minimizing their environmental impact. Before buying something with labels like “green”, “eco-friendly”, “natural”, or “organic”, research the company to know what those labels really mean to them.
Greenwashing is very prevalent in the fashion industry, even among companies that claim to be sustainable. H&M, one of the world’s largest apparel companies, is a good example – the company appears on many rankings as a top company for sustainability, but it ranked dead last on Fashion Revolution’s 2020 Fashion Transparency Index (the most recent ranking). H&M also appears on Pay up Fashion as not having made a public commitment to “keep workers safe” or to “pay up.”
Originally published June 28th, 2021