Not long ago we watched BBC Panorama’s Dying for a bargain, which investigated factory conditions in Bangladesh following the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building. One of the main issues this programme focussed on was working hours. In some of the worst cases, workers were starting at 7am and not finishing until midnight. When challenged about this some factories claimed that the workers were choosing to do so. This is probably not entirely true but also not entirely false either.
If wages are not high enough to provide for a worker and their family then it’s hardly surprising if that worker “chooses” to work longer hours. That’s why at MeasureUp we think one of the most important issues in the fashion industry is for living wages to be paid to workers. That means a wage that’s high enough to meet someone’s basic needs and provide for some discretionary income so that they can work manageable hours and still have enough. Yes, living wages are not always easy to define, but at the moment most companies are not even trying. Some notable exceptions are Fairtrade brand People Tree, outdoor label Patagonia and, in some of their factories, Marks and Spencer.
So recently we’ve changed the indicators on MeasureUp a little to make it clear who’s making an effort on living wages and who’s not. To meet Indicator 1 companies used to have to have an ethical code that included a commitment to living wages. However, we have realised that there is a bit of a problem with this because many companies make this commitment but can provide absolutely no evidence that they are paying living wages. This, of course, makes their “commitment” meaningless. In contrast, a few, more honest companies refused to make the commitment because they don’t want to make a promise and not keep it. However, we have found that some of these companies are actually making more effort to pay living wages that those who were willing to include the pledge in their ethical code.
So, in the interests of fairness and to make it easier for you to tell who’s really paying decent wages, we have changed Indicator 1. Now, to meet this indicator companies must only have an ethical code based on International Labour Organisation conventions, including a commitment on wages (such as paying the legal minimum wage in countries from which they source). So this indicator will now focus on telling you which brands have bothered to adopt an ethical code and which haven’t.
To find out about living wages, you will now need to look at Indicator 3. If you want to buy from companies who have living wage programmes in place then look for those with an orange symbol to show they are ‘making progress’. Companies with a red light have not provided any evidence their factory workers are being paid a living wage – even if they have supposedly made such a commitment. At the moment there is only one brand on MeasureUp that we’ve given the green light to on living wages (i.e. we think they have reasonably demonstrated that workers in their supply chain are paid a living wage). That company is fair trade brand People Tree. So if, like us, you care about living wages, that might be the place to shop!
UK designer brand Paul Smith was added to MeasureUp today. Sadly, they still have nothing to say about their ethical policies, even though we’ve been asking them about this for several years now. They kept promising an ethical manual would appear but it hasn’t materialised. The only thing to say in their favour is that at least they replied to some of our emails, if not all. That’s more than can be said for many of the designer labels we’ve contacted so far.
Unimpressed with Paul Smith? Why not tell them so on Facebook or via Twitter @PaulSmithDesign.
Today we’ve added an impressive new company to MeasureUp: outdoor brand Patagonia. They’re impressive not least because of the huge amount of information they’ve made available on their website. Everything we needed was there except for one small item. No other company we’ve assessed so far is as transparent about their ethics. And if you take a look at Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles, you’ll see what a huge amount of information they make available about their supply chain: not just the name and address of each factory they use, but exactly what is produced there and even, in some cases, how that factory performed in social audits. It makes a mockery of claims from other companies that they can’t tell us about the locations of their factories for reasons of commercial confidentiality.
But what’s really, really impressive about Patagonia is the way they are tackling the wastefulness of our consumer culture head on. It’s beyond the scope of issues we’ve addressed on MeasureUp so far, but take a look at their Common Threads Partnership to find out more. Essentially this programme is all about encouraging us to buy less – even from their own company. So they’re willing to put being socially responsible above their own profit-making. That’s showing serious commitment to the environment and sustainable living!
You may remember a previous blog post where we covered the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh. One of the companies which used the factory was Primark, so we contacted them and asked them four questions:
1. When was this factory last audited by Primark?
2. When was this factory last visited by a Primark ethicaltrading team?
3. Had this factory been subject to any recent unannounced,spot checks?
4. On the basis of recent audits, visits or information receivedfrom workers, was Primark aware of serious problems at thefactory before this tragedy occurred?
Disappointingly, despite chasing them twice, we have received no response from Primark to our questions.
Despite this, it does appear that the tragedy has spurred them into action and they have a dedicated website which describes the steps they have taken.
On top of this new website, they have also added a lot more information about ethical trading to their existing web site – including adding information on the types of issues that our MeasureUp indicators look at. MeasureUp welcomes this approach as we’d rather they made the information public so that everyone can access it rather than simply put it in an email to us.
So what does all this mean for Primark’s entry on MeasureUp? Given the questions they’ve failed to answer and the new information they’ve put on their website we’ve had to look again at their score on two of our indicators.
Firstly, they have not confirmed that the Bangladesh factory was recently audited and have changed the language they use on their website in relation to the frequency of audits. For this reason, we no longer believe they have provided evidence that they audit their factories every two years.
Secondly, they were unable to confirm that the Bangladesh factory had been subject to any unannounced spot-checks and now make no mention of such an approach on their website. We have therefore concluded that they no longer comply with this indicator on MeasureUp.
On the upside, however, they have put some more recent audit results (for 2012) online. Though these do show that more than one fifth of their factories have ‘significant and numerous’ ethical issues.
All in all, the jury’s still out on Primark and these latest changes mean they no longer make up our top ten. Take a look at their latest MeasureUp entry to decide if you still want to shop there.
The horrifying scenes from the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh won’t have escaped your notice. Whilst a number of stores had clothes made in that building, Primark is the one that’s really hit the headlines.
If you’ve taken a look at our recently added Top Ten page, you’ll have seen that Primark came out well on our indicators. Do the events in Bangladesh mean we should slash their rankings?
We don’t want to engage in knee-jerk reactions, but we do think Primark has some explaining to do. We have written to Primark to ask the following questions in the light of the information they gave us previously about the checks they do on their factories. We’ll be reviewing their score in the light of their response. We have asked Primark:
1. When was this factory last audited by Primark?
2. When was this factory last visited by a Primark ethical trading team?
3. Had this factory been subject to any recent unannounced, spot checks?
4. On the basis of recent audits, visits or information received from workers, was Primark aware of serious problems at the factory before this tragedy occurred?
The IT boffins at MeasureUp have today made it even easier for you to compare the ethics of your favourite fashion brands! Check out the new homepage now to see a list of the ten companies that scored best on our indicators.
The savvy amongst you may remember that we said we weren’t that keen on a top ten table because life isn’t that simple. We thought it would be unfair because it assumes that the same weight can be attached to each of the indicators. This is not the case. For example, it's easy for a company to have a code of conduct that meets International Labour Organisation standards (Indicator 1) but much more difficult for a company to provide evidence that its workers are actually being paid a living wage (Indicator 3).
However, the consistent feedback we’ve had is that a top ten table would be helpful. So here it is: the inaugural MeasureUp Top Ten!
Today sees the first designer brands added to MeasureUp. Step forward LVMH.
LVMH is the company which owns some very big names in fashion, including Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs. We should say at the outset that LVMH is ahead of a number of its designer peers simply because it actually responded to our emails. No other designer company we have contacted has so far done so. LVMH also publishes relevant information (although some of the reports can be a little tricky to track down). However, the picture is not entirely rosy. For example, despite the fact that a dress from Marc Jacobs could set you back thousands of dollars, LVMH has no commitment to paying the person who made it a living wage.
We've just added the results for Reiss to MeasureUp. You'll see that Reiss is the first company we've assessed that fails on every one of our indicators. But are they really that bad?
If you look at the answers Reiss gave us you'll see that they claim they're working on their ethical policies. But unfortunately, they have so far refused to share any information with us, despite our best attempts to persuade them. This does not, of course, automatically mean that they do not meet any of the indicators. Although, our experience is that if companies such as Reiss have a good story to tell, they are only too willing to share it with us. Even if Reiss does, in fact, meet some of our indicators, if they won't tell us about it then we've told them we can't give them a positive score. And that means we'd rather choose to shop elsewhere until they are able to be a bit more open.
In the interests of fairness, we should also mention that the companies we've added first to MeasureUp have tended to be those that are making more of an effort on ethical issues and have been willing to share what they're doing with the public. Sadly, as we add more companies to the website, there are likely to be quite a few more who, like Reiss, won't tell us anything. And so, like Reiss, they will also fail on every indicator. We should at least acknowledge the fact that Reiss did reply to some of our emails - unlike some others...
New company added! Check out how John Lewis's ethics MeasureUp.
Another new company added! See how LK Bennett's ethics MeasureUp.
More to come in the next few weeks...
New company added! Check out how River Island's ethics MeasureUp.
MeasureUp works! We've heard recently from someone who works for one of the companies included on MeasureUp. They are very conscious of where they have not met the MeasureUp indicators and have identified them as key areas to focus on. We can have even more impact the more people know about the site and "like" MeasureUp on Facebook - please spread the word!
After months of research and development of the website, MeasureUp is now live! Some companies gave us information very easily, others were harder nuts to crack; but we hope the result is easily understandable and accessible information.
The rights of workers in clothing factories is becoming increasingly significant news (for example, the BBC has carried a few stories recently related to factory workers in China) and we hope this site will encourage companies to pay even more attention to it.
We'd be grateful for your comments on the site and, if you like it, please share it via twitter and facebook.
We hope to update this blog with relevant stories over the coming months.