In a year unlike any other, the Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Report has, like the rest of us, adapted. This year, the report focused on COVID-19 and has been temporarily renamed: The COVID Fashion Report.
The change reflects both the unprecedented year we have all born witness to and also highlights the precarious vulnerability of international supply chain workers who have few or no safety nets to help them through this time of shutdowns, cancelled supplier orders and less consumer spending. It’s about the difficulties those workers have faced (and continue to face), and the obligation fashion brands have to help them.
For this special report, fashion brands were not graded on the usual A+ to F scale and were instead given a rating based on how they have acted to protect their supply chain workers now and into the future. Those protections are summarised as six COVID Fashion Commitments:
- Support workers’ wages by honouring supplier commitments;
- Identify and support workers at greatest risk;
- Listen to the voices and experience of workers;
- Ensure workers’ rights and safety are respected;
- Collaborate with others to protect vulnerable workers’;
- Build back better for workers and the world.
The highest report rating is ‘ALL’, and is reserved for companies that could provide evidence of actions that cover all six COVID Fashion Commitments. The middle grading is ‘SOME’, and the lowest grading is ‘NO’, for those brands with no evidence of commitment to their workers.
Etiko received the highest ALL rating and has previously scored an A+ for ethical production in every other Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Report (2013-2019).
Part of me is pleased to see fashion brands making commitments to support their supply chain workers during this time, but another part of me is disappointed. Meeting the six COVID Fashion Commitments seems to me like the least any brand could, or should be doing. And then there’s the fact that very few of the brands featured on the report actually pay their workers a living wage, and a living wage is the key to solving this whole exploitative mess.
If fashion brands paid a living wage, overseas garment workers would be better placed for situations like the pandemic we now find ourselves in. By short-changing supply chain workers, we have trapped them in a position of victimhood; it is only the circumstances that change.
By exploiting overseas works for decades, we have made them less resilient. If instead, we empowered garment workers by upskilling them, providing a safe working environment and paid them a wage beyond the trappings of modern slavery: the world would benefit in more ways than we can imagine. This has always been the goal of Etiko and will always be what motivates our brand.
I only hope that from the awful events of this year, consumers and brands can both see the value of a living wage goes beyond dollars and cents. It is then, and only then, that supply chain workers will be free from the trappings of modern slavery and more resilient for whatever the future holds.