H&M Takes Top Spot in Latest Fashion Transparency Index

©. Fashion Revolution

The index, published by Fashion Revolution, assesses how brands disclose information about business practices, not their ethics or sustainability.

This week, April 20-26, is Fashion Revolution Week. This annual event was created in the aftermath of the tragic 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,134 people. It is meant to be an opportunity to talk about where clothes are made and by whom, and what we can do to improve an industry that is notoriously bad for garment workers and the environment.

The week's founding group, also called Fashion Revolution, just published its fifth annual fashion transparency index. This document takes a look at the 250 biggest fashion companies globally and ranks them according to how transparent they are in disclosing information about supply chains, business practices, and the impacts of those practices on workers and communities.

Brands are assessed across five key areas – (1) Policy & Commitments: what their social and environmental policies are, how issues are prioritized and reported; (2) Governance: who's on the executive board and how easily a company can be contacted by the public; (3) Traceability: whether a company has published its supplier lists at every level of production and gives information about workers; (4) Know, Show & Fix: how a brand's due diligence procedure works; (5) Spotlight Issues: what brands are doing to address forced labor, gender equality, living wages, waste, circularity, etc.

The 2020 report reveals that the top 10 most transparent companies are H&M;, C&A;, Adidas/Reebok, Esprit, Marks & Spencer, Patagonia, The North Face (which includes Timberland, Vans, Wrangler), Puma, ASOS, and Converse/Jordan/Nike. None of these is a stellar performer; the average score is 23 percent across all brands, and H&M;, in the top spot, only scored 73 percent. The worst performers are Max Mara, Mexx, Pepe Jeans, Tom Ford, and Youngor, all of which scored zero for revealing nothing about their practices.

Fashion Traceability Index 2020 graphic

© Fashion Revolution

The fact that H&M; comes out on top is shocking to anyone who has read about fast fashion; it's the poster-child for excessive production, fleeting trends, and dirt-cheap prices, but according to Fashion Revolution, it's good at being transparent, at providing information about how its supply chains work. Apparently its Conscious Collection helped to improve its ranking by 12 points this year – the same collection that the Norwegian Consumer Authority said was misleading and in breach of the country's marketing laws.

However, as Fashion Revolution's policy director and report author Sarah Ditty told the Guardian, this is "not an examination of how ethical or sustainable the brands are, but rather measures their transparency."

Although there were obvious “elephant in the room issues” about some of the top performers, including “producing too much” and not doing enough to improve workers’ low wages, Ditty said consumers should take heart from the fact that “some brands really are taking some significant steps”.

As more consumers become concerned with how and where their clothing was made, no longer content to pick just anything off the rack, transparency takes on more urgency. Ditty believes that, in the post-COVID-19 world, transparency will be vital to rebuilding a more responsible fashion industry.