18 Apr 2018

Karen Walker, RUBY and Trelise Cooper score low on fashion ethics

12:38 pm on 18 April 2018

But do their grades paint the full picture?


Ando International garment factory in Vietnam

Photo: ILO / Aaron Santos

Some of New Zealand’s top fashion brands have landed at the bottom of this year’s Ethical Fashion Report.

The Tearfund report released today graded 114 companies, 18 of which are from New Zealand. Kiwi companies scored a median grade of B-, above the international average of C+.

The lowest graded Kiwi brands were Trelise Cooper, K&K, and T&T all scoring F grades, and all of whom chose not to engage in the research.

Karen Walker, Max, Farmers, and The Warehouse also chose not to engage, leaving the companies with scores below the international average.

The authors of the report say if brands are unwilling to disclose what they are doing to ensure workers are not exploited in their supply chains, then it becomes near impossible for consumers to know if these brands are doing enough to mitigate these risks.

RUBY did participate and scored a D+ grade. However, it does not paint the full picture, with the brand already having ethical policies in place. Sixty percent of its clothing is manufactured in New Zealand and 40 percent in China.

The overall grades are based on four themes – transparency and traceability, auditing, worker empowerment, and policies – investigated at three stages of the production process: raw materials, inputs production and final production.

In its first year of participation, RUBY scored a D+ for transparency and traceability, a D- for auditing and an F for worker empowerment.

But it scored an A+ for policies, affirming RUBY’s Code of Conduct which sets its standards for how the production of its garments ought to be.

RUBY’s general manager Emily Miller-Sharma said the disappointing grade highlighted the areas where improvement was needed.

“RUBY team members, including myself, visit all of our factories both in China and New Zealand regularly. We’ve seen the facilities, we know the workers, they’re part of the RUBY family.

“As it stands, our auditing process does not meet the requirements set by Tearfund, so right now, our focus is to redress this,” she said.

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Photo: ILO / Aaron Santos

While RUBY audited its own factories in the past, Miller-Sharma said independent auditing was currently underway. RUBY was also working closely with its local fabric suppliers to ensure materials were sourced ethically.

Miller-Sharma was looking forward to spearheading the move towards a more transparent supply chain. But it had already started before Tearfund’s final grade had come out.

On its ‘Ethical Policy’ website page, Miller-Sharma says RUBY promises “to manufacture all products under fair and safe working conditions and to be open and honest with all [its] communication”, stating it would never stop trying to do better.

Tearfund’s ethical fashion project manager Claire Hart said “starting the journey towards ethical procurement” would always be a challenge but she was looking forward to working with RUBY to improve its standards.

“It’s encouraging to see what can be achieved when companies commit to incorporating ethical practice in their operations.”

The New Zealand fashion industry will have reason to celebrate, with three of the top five companies being Kiwi companies: Common Good was second, followed by Icebreaker and Freeset in third and fourth positions. Kathmandu and Kowtow were also high achievers, being awarded with A grades.

Icebreaker was most improved, scoring an A+ up from a D- last year, after making information about its fibres and supply chain publicly available.

The first Ethical Fashion report was published in 2013 shortly after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, a garment factory in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of over 1000 people.