Annual ethical fashion review pushed back, Tearfund releases 'COVID fashion commitments'

An annual ethical fashion review has pushed back in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but organisers say they've released a set of ethical guidelines they hope fashion houses will commit to. 

The annual Tearfund report which grades clothing brands on "their efforts to address worker exploitation and environmental degradation" has become well-known for its past controversy, drawing the ire of several well-known local designers. 

Last year 10 Kiwi companies received grades of D or lower. Farmers, Trelise Cooper and Baby City were among seven companies to be given an F grade, with Cooper denouncing the report as "misleading and deceptive". 

Kiwi brands Kowtow, Icebreaker and AS Colour were all among those who received an A grade. 

This year the report has been postponed, but organisers say they're concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on slowing or even reversing years of progress in improving the wages, rights and conditions of workers making clothes around the world.

According to a Tearfund report, production facilities around the world are being forced to shut, leaving thousands of workers in dire situations.

In Bangladesh, where most workers are paid only poverty-level wages, more than 1 million workers have already been let go.

"Those who remain employed are unlikely to be able to practice social distancing or have access to safe hygiene measures, increasing the risk of infection in regions where healthcare is often difficult to access," the statement reads. 

Garment worker
Garment worker Yasmeen. Photo credit: Supplied/Tearfund.

Tearfund NZ CEO Ian McInnes says that while they acknowledge the impact of COVID-19 on fashion companies and supply chains, "it is garment workers in particular who will pay the steepest price". 

"We believe companies must do everything in their power to honour contracts and safeguard workers," he says. 

"Similarly, consumers who benefit from the remarkable range of clothing lines in good times should let their favourite brands know they’re interested in how their workers are treated in challenging times as well."

The organisation has launched a set of guidelines they hope brands will commit to in the wake of the pandemic. Kiwi outdoor-wear brand Macpac has reportedly already signed up. 

Annual ethical fashion review pushed back, Tearfund releases 'COVID fashion commitments'
Photo credit: Supplied/Tearfund.

The Tearfund 'COVID Fashion Commitments': 

In the face of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on garment workers, we commit to working together to do all we can to:

  1.  Support workers’ wages by honouring supplier commitments
  2.  Identify and support the workers at greatest risk
  3.  Listen to the voices and experience of workers
  4.  Ensure workers’ rights and safety are respected
  5.  Collaborate with others to protect vulnerable workers
  6.  Build back better for workers and the world

A special edition of the annual Ethical Fashion Report will be released in October, looking into the response of the fashion industry after the pandemic and the vulnerabilities faced by workers. The report will mainly be focusing on companies with annual revenues of $30 million and above.