As the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse comes around, a number of reports have been published examining fashion’s commitment to an ethical supply chain. And some have not done so well.

Internationally, the Fashion Transparency Index ranked 40 of the largest players on the transparency of their supply chain. Levi Strauss & Co came out on top (closely followed by H&M and Inditex (Zara)), while Chanel resoundingly claimed the wooden spoon. Hermés, Fendi, LVMH and Prada all joined Chanel in the bottom quarter.

In Australia, Baptist World Aid researched 87 local and global companies and issued a report disclosing a ‘Slavery & Labour Rights Grade’ from A to F. Noone likes to report an F to mum, but how about when an F may mean you’re a slaver?

While reports like these are definitely contributing to improvements in the industry (Baptist World Aid says that the percentages of brands tracing their suppliers and raw materials, and investing in paying fairer wages, have increased dramatically in the past 3 years), we need to be careful to look beyond the headlines.

The Fashion Transparency Index was based on the results of a questionnaire issued to 40 businesses. Only 10 filled it out. Therefore the surveyors relied on the annual reports and websites of the brands to develop the rankings. Similarly, Baptist World Aid based its findings on publicly available information (and then attempted to confirm with the companies). Interestingly, all companies which scored an F chose not to engage with Baptist World Aid.

Therefore, the ratings do not necessarily show how ethical your supply chain is, just how much you actually disclose to your consumers. You could be doing everything right but if no-one knows about it you are going to cop bad media.

Tracking your supply chain is costly and difficult (just ask Rip Curl who learned this the hard way when it discovered its Chinese manufacturer had secretly subcontracted to North Korea), but doing it is quickly becoming another necessary cost of doing business. 

While we don’t expect the government to be legislating on this any time soon, the pressure from ethical fashion advocates and your customers will continue to grow.