Baptist World Aid Australia released the 2016 Australian Fashion Report: The Truth Behind the Barcode on the 20th of April, during Fashion Revolution Week. The report rates Australian brands based on workers’ rights, including the ability to pay a fair wage, provide safe working conditions and implement company policies to ensure the fair treatment of garment industry workers.
However, there are a few things we need to keep in mind when reading the report. One controversial topic of discussion that the report has sparked amongst the team at Naked is Inditex, Zara’s parent company, receiving an A rating.
Zara are notoriously transparent in their supply chain, as a vertically integrated company. Zara should absolutely be commended on their dedication to treating their workers fairly - but does this extend to encompass the full meaning of ethical fashion?
Our understanding of ethical fashion is simple - fashion that is good for both people and the planet. A fast fashion model of production cannot be regarded as sustainable for the environment and for the future of fashion.
With this in mind, is it still ok to buy from Zara?
Regularly buying from fast fashion outlets such as Zara and Cotton On increases waste in the garment industry. Using the Behind the Barcode rating to justify purchases from fast fashion outlets may clear our consciences but will not contribute wholly to an ethical fashion future.
There are other means of comparing brands to ensure they encompass both workers’ rights and environmental sustainability. Websites such as Shop Ethical and Project Just or apps such as Good On You give companies and brands an overall rating based on their impact on people and the planet.
Sure, it is better to buy from Zara then from companies like Ally Fashion, who rated F in Behind the Barcode, D on Shop Ethical and ‘Not Good Enough’ on Good On You. However, if we are truly striving to change the rapid nature of the fashion industry, buying from brands with an environmental AND fair trade focus should be the number one priority.
The report also acknowledges “…at the raw materials level - only 5% of companies knew who all of their suppliers were”. If companies are not even aware of who is making the materials used to make their garments, how are they aware of how much energy and water fabric production is using, if these factories are using toxic dyes and if these chemicals are running off into local waterways and causing health defects in wider communities?
The Behind the Barcode Report is a great tool in order to assess an at-a-glance overview of each company’s progress or lack of responsiveness to the fair treatment of workers in the garment industry. However, it is worth considering that the report focuses on only one aspect of the ethical fashion movement. Cross compare your favourite companies’ ratings on Behind the Barcode with other online resources such as Shop Ethical and Project Just to assess their overall dedication to the ethical fashion movement.
Remember that part of being an ethical consumer is knowing how to ask questions, research and make conscientious decisions based on your findings.