Some 40% of apparel brands aren’t monitoring their supply chains to ensure that they’re compliant with labor standards despite pressure from labor advocates and consumers, according to a report released by Fashion Revolution and Ethical Consumer.
Fashion supply chains are complex, according to the report, and because many brands don't own the factories where their clothes are made they often aren’t sufficiently aware of conditions in those factories.
Several brands were approached by the groups regarding the lack of transparency detailed in the report, but only H&M and Lululemon responded. H&M was highlighted as being more transparent but the authors warned that its supplier factories remain unsafe. H&M welcomed the improvement in the index and said it’s working to continue to improve while Lululemon said it’s committed to sustainable manufacture of its clothing.
Both Fashion Revolution and Ethical Consumer are encouraging consumers to ask for more transparency after the deadly 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than a thousand people.
For real progress to be made in ensuring that factories in Bangladesh are safe though, all stakeholders must be more vigilant. Workers themselves have become more aware of potential hazards and more outspoken about identifying them, and brands have acknowledged that the process to fix issues has been too slow.
But advocates continue to keep up the pressure and say that brands' blindness when it comes to where their products are being made is helping factory owners ignore dire issues.
Fast-fashion brands in particular have been cited for poor progress in this area, in part because factories are under such pressure to produce apparel especially quickly. But high-end clothing designers like Prada, Hermes, and Chanel were also highlighted in the report as some of the worst offenders when it comes to transparency.
"Lack of transparency costs lives," according to the report. "It is impossible for companies to make sure human rights are respected and that environmental practices are sound without knowing where their products are made, who is making them and under what conditions."
H&M, for example, last year was singled out in a critical report by the Clean Clothes Campaign, which noted that more than half of its factories in the country lacked fire doors or gates and a whopping 61% lacked fire exits.
"More than two and a half years into the process of the Bangladesh Accord, every single mandated repair at H&M's suppliers should have already been completed," Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium said in a statement. "However, the sad reality is that hardly any of H&M's supplier factories in Bangladesh can be called safe.”