Report fails New Zealand fashion retailers on ethical grade

Several high-profile Kiwi fashion retailers have scored low grades in a new ethical fashion report.

Tearfund New Zealand launched its annual report on Wednesday, revealing its grades for 29 Kiwi fashion retailers on how they protect their workers and environment from exploitation.

The report, compiled with Baptist World Aid Australia, gave seven New Zealand companies a grade in the A range, up from five in 2018.

Those companies include Icebreaker, Kowtow, Kathmandu and AS Colour.

However, at the other end, 10 Kiwi companies received grades of D or lower, with 11 in between.

Farmers, Trelise Cooper and Baby City are among seven companies to be given an F grade.

Trelise Cooper has denounced the grade, saying it didn't participate in the report.

"We are genuinely committed to strong ethical standards and I thank you all for your letters, comments and communications of support and love," the brand captioned an official statement released on Facebook on Wednesday. 

The statement slammed the report as "misleading and deceptive". 

New Zealand clothing designer Kate Sylvester issued a statement saying they chose not to participate in the Tearfund report, intead tackling the ethical issues that come with local design "more constructively". 

"When making product in New Zealand, we currently lack an official auditing system for our local manufacturing partners, instead we rely on personal relationships, regular visits and local labour laws," the statement reads.

"Another major challenge is that as boutique businesses buying small amounts of fabric to make limited garment runs, we don't have the buying power or influence that fast fashion multinationals have to demand full disclosure from suppliers.

"With these frustrating roadblocks to overcome we decided to begin to tackle these challenges constructively, and started talking to other local brands facing similar challenges to try and find a solution collectively."

The company says it is instead focusing on its '2019 Mindful Fashion' agenda, the full details of which can be found here. 

Newshub has approached 3 Wise Men, WORLD and Farmers for comment. 

T&T Childrenswear owner Darrin Johannink declined to comment due to "likely legal action pending". 

Tearfund said companies that didn't participate in the research process were given grades from B to F, based on information available to the public.

"If brands do not disclose, or 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 investing sufficiently to mitigate these risks," the charity said in a statement.

Companies are assessed at three stages of the supply chain - raw materials, inputs production and the final stage production.

The assessment is then grouped into five themes - policies, traceability and transparency, auditing and supplier relationships, worker empowerment, and environmental impact.

Tearfund's chief executive Ian McInnes said all companies have a responsibility to look after workers and the environment throughout their production process.

"These workers will be producing a vast number of clothes in any one day, so for a small tweak on the retail price, pass that through. You are making an enormous difference to the worker on the other end," he told Newshub.

"Some of our smallest members and some of the more niche ones, because they have set out right from the get go to be ethical, they do have a grip on their supply chain and they do receive a very high grade."

The report also found only five percent of companies paid the living wage to all workers at the final stage of production.

There are also concerns for workers in Bangladesh, who are paid only a fraction of the cost of the garments they put together.

"It has got about 4.5 million workers in the garment sector, about the population of New Zealand. Right now, their minimum wage is about half of what it takes to live on," said McInnes.

F grades:

  • Farmers
  • 3 Wise Men
  • Baby City
  • Merric
  • T&T
  • Trelise Cooper
  • Baby Factory

D grades:

  • Kate Sylvester
  • Hunting and Fishing NZ

C grades:

  • K&K
  • Pagani
  • Postie Plus
  • Ruby
  • Max
  • Barkers

B grades:

  • The Warehouse Group
  • Macpac
  • Huffer
  • Karen Walker
  • Hallenstein Glasson

A grades:

  • Icebreaker
  • Freeset
  • Liminal
  • Kowtow
  • Kathmandu
  • Nature Baby
  • AS Colour

The full report, including how 130 companies were graded on each theme and which companies didn't participate, can be viewed on Tearfund's website.