The Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was a watershed moment for the global garment industry. It shone a bright light on the often atrocious conditions in factories across the developing world. When it was found that the factory was supplying several fast fashion brands – including Benetton -- it began a movement to ensure better working conditions across the world, resulting in initiatives such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
High fashion brands have, for the most part, avoided the spotlight. Logically, these labels – which charge a premium for high quality products – should not be making the same, cost-cutting mistakes that fast fashion brands do and did. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
In this piece we'll explore the sustainability commitments of several well-known high fashion brands, We'll see which ones have strong policies in place, and which ones are ignoring the basics of proper supply chain management. It is those companies, in the laggards section, that have the highest likelihood of having forced labor or modern slavery in their supply chain.
Luxury Society called Kering "a leader when it comes to conglomerate level corporate social responsibility in the luxury sector," pointing specifically at their ambitious five year social and environmental plan, which includes a section on the sourcing of raw materials. Kering's sustainability page is thorough, with progress updates, targets, and regular updates. They are also a member member of the United Nations Global Compact. Kering is the umbrella company for brands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent Paris, Boucheron, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga.
Gucci has several built-in advantages. In addition to being wholly owned by supportive parent Kering, the company goes above and beyond and still makes all its products in its home county, Italy, not having yet outsourced their production to developing countries to cut costs. They've also taken a leadership position in sustainability. Their website highlights their commitment to sustainability and worker wellbeing. They also perform audits every year for their suppliers and subcontractors. Gucci is also a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council and has met the organization's highest ethical, social and environmental standards.
Burberry has an ethical trading policy that is quite comprehensive, and they are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, "an alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that promotes respect for workers' rights around the globe". In 2012, they pulled out of a factory in China after concerns about conditions there, showing that they are willing to take action when suppliers do not meet their standards.
Michael Kors has disclosed their supply chain as required by the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. They state that "due to the nature of our workforce and the locations of most of our employees, we believe that the risks of slavery and human trafficking in our own business are remote." They also have a policy on conflict minerals – the use of which can also be closely tied to modern slavery or child labor.
Armani has a Social Responsibility and Sustainability Policy, but it does not specifically mention supply chain management or worker's rights. Though they are a leader in zero discharge and water quality issues, it is unclear what Armani is currently doing to ensure that slavery and labor abuses are not in their supply chain.
LVMH (Louis Vitton, Christian Dior)
LVMH has a supplier Code of Conduct, but it is unclear how it is implemented and how the auditing process works for certain materials. There also does not seem to third party verification.
Coach has released a disclosure, as required by the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, however, the disclosure is a self-analysis and does not include any third party verification. Unlike some of its competitors, Coach has many facilities in countries with labor rights issues, including Vietnam, China, India, and the Philippines, and necessitating a greater need for transparency.
Prada does not have any recent information on their website about either sustainability or supply chain management. Their last sustainability report dates from 2014. RandaBrand.com, a independent website that ranks consumer brands on sustainability and social responsibility, gave Prada a E, the lowest possible score, for not communicating anything concrete on, among other things, labor conditions in low-wage countries.
Dolce & Gabbana
Doce & Gabbana has a code of ethics on their website, but little information how it is implemented, nor if there is any third-party verification for these standards. RankaBrand also rated them a E. They are also not a member of any alliance or organization seeking to improve working conditions.
If these brands really want to maintain their reputation for quality and style, then they need to ensure consumers that their products are being sourced, produced, and sold ethically, with no risk of modern slavery in their supply chains. And, most importantly, they need to work together to ensure the entire industry remains high fashion, ethically.
Image credit: Alpha via Flickr