Reflecting on the 2021 Ethical Fashion Guide

1 November 2021

Blog post

By Andrea Shabrokh,

On Tuesday the 18th October, Baptist World Aid (BWA) and Tearfund New Zealand (TFNZ) released the 2021 Ethical Fashion Guide. The guide has been published every year since 2013, with a primary goal to help consumers support brands which treat their workers and the environment with respect and personally, as a consumer, I have been using the Guide every year since 2016. For years, I eagerly awaited the release of the new guide and felt secure in the fact that by purchasing only from brands who received an A, or a B, that I was supporting brands which did not exploit workers or the environment. 

However, this year in particular, there has been outcry and confusion in response to the Guide’s gradings, with many confused as to why fast fashion brands known for unethical practices received an A. So, over the last week, I have spent time reading, researching and listening to different views and responses to the Guide and hope that what I have learnt will help you come to your own conclusions about Guide. 

How are the grades calculated? 

This year, BWA and TFNZ published information on how the grades are calculated. 98 Companies were surveyed and assessed using 18 core questions within 5 categories: 

  1. Policies & governance (6%)
  2. Environmental sustainability (20%)
  3. Tracing & risk (15%)
  4. Worker empowerment (25%)
  5. Supplier relationships & human rights monitoring (34%)

From the survey responses, an industry average score of 33.6 out of 100 was calculated. Any company receiving 33.6 – 49.99 received a B grade, 50 – 74.99, an A grade and 75 – 100, an A plus. The companies’ actual numerical scores out of 100 were not released to the public.

My response: 

Like many others, I was horrified to hear that the industry average was only 33.6. At University or school, a grade this low would not even be considered a pass! Yet, within the Australian and New Zealand Fashion Industry,  a failing grade is considered worthy of a B! Not sure about you but I find that very concerning and misleading to users trying to do the right thing.

After getting over my initial shock and disappointment in an industry which I had honestly believed was improving and starting to make a positive change, my focus shifted to the need for users to better understand the scoring system and what these scores actually mean.

On page 34 of the Ethical Fashion Report and the second last page of the Guide, readers can find the information I shared above on how brands are scored. However, by placing information on the scoring system so far back in both the Report and Guide, readers are less likely to find this information unless they are actively looking for it. This means that well intended consumers may choose, as I did for many years, to purchase from only companies who receive an A or B, without knowing how the scoring system actually works. Further, with fast fashion brands known for exploiting both people and the environment receiving an A over multiple years, consumers are given the nod of approval to continue supporting these brands. Also of concern is that when such low scores are given such high grades, companies may also have little incentive to improve their practices and strive for better. 

It therefore concerns me that whilst BWA and TFNZ’s mission and the work they do to improve the fashion industry is enormous and responsible for much positive change in the industry, that the communication of their findings may undo some of their amazing work. 

So, what can consumers do to make sure the companies we purchase from truly reflect our values and goals to promote ethical practices in the fashion industry?

Here are some tips to enable you to achieve your goals and be better informed about organisations who are really ahead of the game.

  • The Good on You App and Website: 

Rates brands on their efforts to address criteria relating to people, the planet and animals. Ratings range from “We Avoid” to “Great” and provide explanation as to why each rating against the three criteria was given. This allows consumers to decide for themselves, if a brand aligns with their values, based on the information provided by Good On You. 

  • Ethically Kate’s Brand Directory:  

New Zealand Sustainable Living educator, blogger and influencer has a brand directory on her website. 

  • The Green Hub Sustainable Brand Directory:

The Green Hub is an Australian blog and directory focusing on sustainable living and empowering people to make more eco-friendly and ethical choices. The directory provides a list of companies which reflect The Green Hub’s values.

  • Company websites and stores: 

If a company truly cares about people and the planet, they should have some information on their website about what they are doing to ensure best practice within their own supply chains. However, companies can use sustainability pages on their website to Greenwash so it is important that any ethical and sustainable claims they make are backed up by proof. If you go into a store and ask a salesperson about the company’s supply chain and environmental policies and they look at you blankly, it is likely the company doesn’t value this enough to educate their staff on the matter. 

I hope that this article has provided some clarity on Baptist World Aid and Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Guide and that you yourself will be able to come to your own conclusion as to how to use the guide. If you would like to read and learn more about other opinions on the guide, please read the links below: 

Ethically Kate: “I wish I could endorse the Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide”

James Bartle from Outland Denim: “A word from founder James on BWA’s 2021 Ethical Fashion Guide

Etiko: “Let’s Talk about our A+”

Baptist World Aid and Tearfund New Zealand: “Giving an A to Fast Fashion”

Download and read Baptist World Aid and Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Report and Guide