Brand Sustainability Rankings Offer Up Some Surprises

Sourcing Journal
Sourcing Journal

The fashion industry is failing in its mission to become more sustainable, and has reverted back to the status quo.

That’s according to global advocacy group Remake , which released its Fashion Accountability Report last month. In assessing 58 of the industry’s largest fashion, luxury and big-box retail players over the course of the past year, the group said that it has noted a backslide into harmful industry practices—even as organizations tout their social and environmental progress.

“We are back to cheap consumerism, high profits, low wages, massive greenwashing , tokenistic racial justice and the constant churn of new collections,” Remake wrote, pointing to groups like Shein , which has risen to prominence even with consumer interest in sustainability reaching an apex this year. The sector appears to be torn by its desire to become more responsible and its need to profit off of that image, Remake wrote, using U.K. fast fashion brand Boohoo ’s recently launched “sustainable” collection with Kourtney Kardashian Barker as an example. While it collected accolades and sales through the effort, Boohoo was simultaneously being investigated for forced labor and greenwashing.

Brands across the board were subject to assessments of their social and environmental progress, measured through their performance across the categories of traceability, wages and wellbeing, commercial practices, raw materials, environmental justice and governance, with the possibility of earning up to 150 points.

Even the highest-performing brands have a long way to go. Burberry , which took the No. 1 spot, earned 38 points for its efforts to promote environmental justice and effective governance within the company and its external stakeholders. It incorporated regenerative farming practices into its supply chain, updated its emissions targets, and introduced initiatives to help its Italian suppliers manage energy, chemicals and water more effectively. Everlane , which tied for first place, excelled in fabric innovation, offering non-virgin materials like upcycled wool and GRS-certified recycled polyester and nylon, and invested $200,000 to help convert conventional farmland to regenerative organic for growing cotton. The lifestyle brand also received a cash infusion this week.

Levi’s (34 points), Reformation (33 points) and H&M Group (32 points) took the No. 3, No.4 and No. 5 slots, respectively, with H&M’s traceability efforts surpassing others and Reformation ’s adoption of preferred raw materials outperforming the rest. Levi’s scored higher in environmental justice than others in the top five.

Meanwhile, some surprising names missed the mark, according to Remake. While Patagonia (26 points) is “is often perceived to be one of the most sustainable brands when it comes to materials innovation, circularity, and environmental impact, the company is still quite reserved in its human rights disclosures,” the group said, adding that it has not traced its supply chain down to the raw materials level or reported on labor issues and the extent of worker unionization.

Uniqlo , J Brand, Helmut Lang and Theory owner Fast Retailing (28 points) scored higher than some mass market brands like Gap Inc. (16 points) and J. Crew (10 points), increasing its score from last year by elucidating its living-wage methodology, improving policies surrounding animal welfare, and prioritizing upcycling and repair services. Despite the progress, Remake noted that manufacturers supplying Uniqlo are currently being fingered for wage theft in India.

Sportswear brands Adidas (26 points), Puma (26 points) and Nike (21 points) all scored in the middle range of brands that were assessed, while luxury firms Kering and Hermes both scored 20 points. LVMH scored significantly lower, at 11 points.

Mall anchors Victoria’s Secret and American Eagle each scored 10 points, while Target scored 12 points. Bringing up the rear, U.K. fast fashion brands Boohoo and Missguided each scored nine points, and Shein (eight points) narrowly outperformed Amazon (seven points), Walmart (six points) and Kohl’s (five points). Six brands—Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, JCPenney, Sears, TJX and Urban Outfitters scored just two points, demonstrating little by way of intent or progress.

According to Remake, brands aren’t responsible for driving the systemic change that the industry needs to see—new policies are. “One of the leading positive trends of 2022 is that fashion policy took center stage,” the group said. “It has moved into the mainstream and it is now shaping legislative agendas around the world.”

California passed the hard-won Garment Worker Protection Act (SB62) in California in 2021, protecting the state’s apparel factory workers from wage theft and inspiring other cities, like New York, to examine their own worker rights laws. In May, Congress introduced the Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change ( FABRIC ) Act, which seeks to hold companies accountable for wages across the supply chain and incentivize onshoring.

Meanwhile, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act took effect in June, pushing the industry to account for where its products are made. “Supply chain disclosures are certainly becoming both broader and deeper, as is evidenced throughout this report, but a new era is upon us: Radical transparency is no longer a nice-to-have,” Remake said.

Across the pond, the E.U. is on the verge of adopting a directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence, which requires companies to practice greater supply chain oversight and address human and environmental risks. This year, the E.U. civil society organizations launched the Good Clothes, Fair Pay campaign, which calls upon the fashion sector to raise wages.

Proposed legislation across the globe surrounding human rights, transparency and greenwashing is winding its way through legislatures globally, Remake said, and some corporations are reading the writing on the wall and seeking to ensure future compliance.

“How large companies interact with these policies as they move through legislatures will be the question of 2023,” the group said.

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