Behind The Barcode: Australia's top ethical brands 2018
“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes
hunger and unhappiness,"
Baptist World Aid Australia released their fifth Ethical Fashion Guide in April 2018 (one a year since the Rana Plaza Disaster) when I was too busy to talk about it, so now you've all but forgotten about it and probably lapsed on the attention you pay to your fashion choices, let's delve back into the conversation and continue to keep social justice for garment workers in our mind.
In 2016 I wrote this blog post about Australia's top 15 ethical brands based off Baptist World Australia's 'Behind The Barcode' Ethical Fashion Report. Back then, the list was used only as a guide for which companies were taking action on certain human rights issues and was not inclusive of the living wage or sustainability, so it was not intended to be used as a definitive standalone list. So I cross-referenced brands that received a B grade or higher from the list with companies that had guaranteed a living wage, which totalled only 15 brands. I didn't cross-reference any sustainability measures in this analysis because I don't think any existed yet.
For the first time this year, Baptist World Australia included environmental and gender policies in their rankings (to knuckle down on unique issues of gendered discrimination such as the pay gap). This list is not to be interpreted as the brands leading in sustainability and environmental innovation, but is a guide for brands active in Australia that have made steps in accreditation and transparency. In the report they have graded over 400 brands owned by more than 100 companies on their employee policies, transparency, auditing compliance, and steps towards worker empowerment. Policies reflect action to avoid child labour, forced labour and worker exploitation. Those who don't participate are automatically given an F (as this report is about transparency, after all). This year I opted out of cross-referencing with the living wage as Baptist World Aid adjusted their survey to rank all brands on this criteria against each other.
Notable mention goes to Cotton On who have risen from a B- in their first report to an A and are the highest rated company with an international HQ in Australia. Impressive for their price point which makes them one of the most accessible brands in Australia, and they are always my go-to for pyjamas that are free from child labour. Despite issues in the sheer scale of their brand (widespread fast fashion can never be called "sustainable"), they're doing more than their peers to lessen things like water waste during production, were one of the earlier companies to stop using free single-use plastic bags, and have made steps toward more sustainable fabrics like organic cotton and bamboo (e.g. my bamboo loungewear, but no word on how sustainable that bamboo truly is).
Criticism of this report for the high scores of fast fashion companies are valid, and I don't disagree. This is not a standalone list by which to make all you purchasing choices, it is simply a review of their practices. This report remains incredibly important to hold fast fashion companies to account for their policies and procedures, help consumers make important decisions when shopping amongst the brands accessible to them, and most importantly to shine a light the prevalence of exploitation in the garment industry, forcing change upon those that had previously hidden their supply chain from their customers.
You can download the full report here, but below is the summary of the best and worst ranking brands as your cheatsheet for who to look for, and who to strictly boycott. For all the brands in between, refer to the full guide.
- Audrey Blue
- Common Good
- Liminal Apparel
- Mighty Good Undies
- Outland Denim
- Cotton On (+ Cotton On Body, Cotton On Kids, Rubi)
- Barely There
- Champion (+ C9 by Champion)
- Country Road
- Gear for Sports
- Kayser (hosiery)
- Knights Apparel
- Lululemon Athletica
- Nudie Jeans
- Red Robin
- Sheer Relief
- Zara (+ Zara Home)
The biggest names on the failing list
- Ralph Lauren
- Victoria's Secret
- Bras N Things
- Somedays Lovin'
- Staple the Label
Feeling cranky a brand you love has ended up on the naughty list? Here's what you can do:
- Buy new clothes less frequently (read this) and check secondhand stores before buying new,
- Check out online fashion retailers like Ecomono, Ecoture, Ethi and Well Made Clothes to start exploring ethical fashion brands and find those that match your style,
- Download the GoodOnYou app to check where brands rank before buying,
- Write letters to the companies that failed telling them as a consumer you're disappointed and will stop supporting them until they improve their score,
- Try to look for brands with Fairtrade or organic accreditation whenever possible to increase consumer demand,
- Check out the rest of my fair fashion blog posts, and
- Watch The True Cost documentary on Netflix for an insight into the ethical issues surrounding fashion and fortify your decision to support brands doing good!