What you need to know about the Fashion Transparency Index 2023

8 mins read

Fashion Revolution released its yearly report on the transparency of large fashion brands in July. The organisation have operated since 2017 and looks into 250 fashion companies’ public disclosure on human rights and environmental issues.

The 150-page report highlights brands’ disclosure on themes, such as company policies and commitments, supply and traceability, as well as selected spotlight issues that the organisation focus on every year.

Here is what you need to know:

Made with Canva. Credit: Julie Brinking

Fashion Revolution shares the frustration of consumers, activists, leaders, and more, but reiterates that no single brand, person or company is to blame for the issues synonymous with the fashion industry.

Transparency is not the end goal, it is not radical and it is not to be confused with sustainability. Scores acquired by any particular brand do not reflect actual company measures and do not endorse shopping with that brand.

“We cannot fix what we cannot see.” – Fashion Revolution

Demanding transparency from fashion brands is a necessary step towards systemic change. The data from the index enables lawmakers, journalists, trade unions, NGOs, workers and consumers to hold companies to account by scrutinising their unethical and damaging practices.

We cannot afford to waste time determining with whom responsibility lies when the climate crisis and human rights violations continue to thrive in opaque management. Transparency is just a tool for meaningful change, but it is more than necessary if we are “to cease, mitigate, prevent and remedy the environmental and human rights abuses”, says Fashion Revolution.

Fashion is not nearly as green as you think

The fashion industry is responsible for an estimated 2-8% of greenhouse gases. The environmental impact is undeniable. In 2022, Pakistan lost 40% of its cotton crops due to floods.

According to Fashion Revolution’s findings, brands score an average of 26.5% in transparency on Climate Change & Biodiversity issues and commitments.

Brands may appear to be going green by switching to paper bags in stores, advocating take-back schemes and more, but the biggest climate crisis contributor lies behind the scenes.

Made with Canva. Credit: Julie Brinking

When sourcing and making materials such as cotton, viscose and leather, farms and regions suffer great environmental consequences. The number of square kilometres of land deforested annually is still increasing (up 22% from 2021 to 2022). Yet, 88% of brands do not disclose a commitment to zero deforestation.

Brands are starting to disclose their carbon footprint more and more as stakeholders pressure them to reduce their environmental impacts. However, this data does not cover all carbon emissions.

Only 34% of brands publish decarbonisation targets across their operations and supply chains.

However, there is a noticeable difference in what happens at the brands’ own facilities and across the supply chain, where suppliers work with multiple brands simultaneously. 47% of brands disclose data on the renewable energy used in their direct operations, while 9% disclose data on the renewable energy used in their supply chain.

A closer look at sustainability and traceability in the supply chain

The Fashion Transparency Index comes at a crucial point after a Swedish paper revealed in an investigation that H&M failed to recycle clothes in their “Close the Loop” campaign. Aftonbladet attached air tags to ten items of clothing and followed their journey across the globe to dumping sites.

28% of major brands disclose what happens to the clothes they receive as part of their take-back schemes. Worryingly, only 4% of brands disclose the percentage of products designed to enable closed loop or textile-to-textile recycling in the spotlight issue on overconsumption, waste & circularity.

Though many recycling schemes are implemented with good intentions clothes are still produced, bought and discarded at a rate which undermines the logic of major recycling schemes.

“Brands continue to disclose more information on take-back schemes than where the clothes actually end up.” – Fashion Revolution

The fashion industry uses the Global South as a dumping ground in its waste management strategy, forgetting that “moving clothes from one place to another does not equate circularity.” For this reason, countries such as the Philippines have banned the importation of second-hand clothes from Western countries.

The consumption of clothes is projected to reach 160 million tonnes by 2050. That is three times the amount today. Still, 88% of brands do not disclose their own annual production volume – a number they most definitely know.  

Made with Canva. Credit: Julie Brinking

Traceability is the third category in the Fashion Transparency Index. It covers topics such as disclosing supplier names, processing facilities, trade unions, number of workers, energy and water consumption, and the gender distribution of workers.

Failure to provide data on this issue at a facility level obscures the true impact garment production has on the environment and any chance of fixing the problem.

Fashion Revolution runs the campaign #WhoMadeMyFabric? to call attention to exploitative working conditions at factories and processing facilities. Without transparent data of every step on the supply chain list, trade unions and worker representatives there is no evidence of abuses. It’s all about being able to hold companies accountable for what happens in their supply chain.

The Supply Chain Traceability score is increasing with every year, but the change is not coming quickly enough. The average percentage score change is +2.5% over the last 6 years.

Credit: Fashion Revolution

Degrowth as a means of slowing down the climate crisis

Recycling, take-back scheme and rental clothing are as effective in slowing down the fashion industry’s impact on the climate as trying to block a dam with a bandage. The root of the problems is and remains overproduction and overconsumption.

Degrowth is a new topic that Fashion Revolution introduced to the index in 2023. It is explained as a movement that prioritises social and ecological well-being over profits, overproduction and overconsumption.

Tackling overproduction is a difficult task. The idea of degrowth is sometimes compared to recession, which is chaotic, unplanned and socially destabilising. It is a complex term which must be addressed with careful planning and consideration – but it holds great potential.

The only brands committed to degrowth are Armani and United Colors of Benetton.

It is not likely that fashion companies will change to radical degrowth. But bringing attention to the possibility of slowing down the climate crisis by descaling production volumes is a step in the right direction.

Read the full report here.

Featured Image Credit: Fashinnovation

+ posts

Fourth year English and Journalism student and Comment editor. Talk to me about fashion, culture, language and media.

%d bloggers like this: