Customers push for fashion without exploitation


A “cruelty rating” would help shoppers decide whether the clothes they are buying are a good fit with their ethics and principles, one New Zealand fashion label says.

Australia’s Baptist World Aid has released the latest version of its annual Ethical Fashion Guide, which rates retailers based on their labour rights management processes.

It said while there had been a lot of improvement in the three years it has been running the survey, there was still room for more.

Online fashion retailer Boohoo rated an F, as did Hush Puppies and General Pants Co. Pumpkin Patch only achieved a D rating and Glassons a C-plus.

Baptist World Aid advocacy manager Gershon Nimbalker said the guide was designed to help consumers vote with their wallets to help improve the levels of transparency about the supply chain that brought fashion to Australasian shops.

Simon Pound,  director of fashion label Ingrid Starnes, said all of its clothes were New Zealand-made where it was possible.

People buy different things for different reasons. It’s like free-range eggs – for some people free-range is a must and they will pay a premium for it to be cruelty-free while others are not concerned. But with more education, most consumers do care. It would be great if retailers had to display their cruelty rating like a good rating, or if there was a mark like the SPCA tick.

“As New Zealanders we have put laws in that mean workers get fair pair, holiday sand treatment and safe working conditions. These make things expensive. Then we import things we know have been made in cruel conditions. It is kind of funny, like do we care or don’t we? Most people have a better idea about the lives of the chickens making their eggs than the humans making their clothes.”

Nimbalker said companies had responded to consumers’ requests for more ethical fashion. in 2013, just 49 per cent of companies were able to trace where their fabric came from. That has increased to 79 per cent.

Almost a third are paying significantly more than the minimum wages required compared to 11 per cent in 2013.

Nimbalker said the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 had made a big impact on consumers. More than 1100 people died. “People started asking who is making my clothes and how are they being treated? Every year since then there has been increasing consumer awareness of the issues.”

He said Australian and New Zealand retailers had been laggards by international standards but were starting to catch up. He said Cotton On and Jeanswest had made significant progress.

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