Baptist World Aid website ‘FAQs’, 2019
The research team evaluates the company’s code of conduct, sourcing and subcontracting policies, and involvement with other organisations that work to combat worker exploitation.
2. Traceability & Transparency
Our research team evaluates how much of the supply chain the company has traced and whether it has disclosed any information to the public about its supply chain.
3. Auditing & Supplier Relationships
The research team assesses how much of the supply chain is audited for compliance with the company’s policies and looks at how the company manages supplier relationships to improve working conditions.
4. Worker Empowerment
The research team considers the company’s efforts to pay workers a living wage and assesses whether the company supports other aspects of worker well-being such as access to unions, collective bargaining agreements, and grievance mechanisms.
More FAQ’s here.
Image via Patagonia
What happens after the research?
Once the research has been conducted, the Research Team from Baptist World Aid sends the brand its findings with the option for further input, evidence or comments. For the ones that are unresponsive, they are contacted multiple times.
If a brand does not publish any information regarding factories or workers or respond to Baptist World Aid, they automatically receive an F grade. Some may say it’s unfair, however Baptist World Aid believes that companies need to be graded even if they do not respond, as they aren’t being transparent enough to the public.
The report is also published alongside an Ethical Fashion Guide to help consumers make better shopping decisions and encourage consumers to write to the brands that received a low grade.
What difference has it made?
It’s hard to say the exact positive effects that the Behind The Barcode project has achieved, however since it’s the first report in 2013 more brands have taken part than ever before and a selection of brand’s grades have improved.
‘The collective impact of all of our decisions has been heard by companies, which has in turn been a driver for change.’
Numerous recent studies have confirmed that young consumers want ethical fashion, the demand is there. WGSN, the world’s #1 fashion trend forecaster, predicts that the new decade will be shaped by ethics and responsibility, read the Future Consumer report here.
Consumers and brands are embracing transparency and thanks to reports like Behind The Barcode pushing brands, it’s becoming unacceptable to hide crucial information from consumers about garment production.
The limiting factor
Companies that put the work in, to demand more ethical supply chains, like Baptist World Aid, deserve undue credit for forcing the hand of brands.
There are however limitations to finger pointing and grading brands. Supply chains are complicated, especially for the consumer. Supply chain expert and researcher Megan O’Malley, one half of Walk Sew Good and previous Head of Research for Project JUST, discussed the limitations of these reports with me.
Megan left and Gabby right, from Walk Sew Good
‘…Grading the brands is only helpful up to a specific point. It paints a very black and white picture of what the brands are doing when the work being done in the fashion industry is all sorts of shades of grey.
I’m not sure you can really compare the work that a brand like H&M is doing with that of a brand like Kowtow with any kind of accuracy. It’s almost like comparing apples and oranges.
The report provides insight into a very small part of a brand’s operations. It looks at the policies that are in place and doesn’t necessarily measure the effectiveness of those policies. The report itself says: It is important to note that a high grade does not mean that a company has a supply chain, which is free from exploitation.
I think that based on this very basic information about what brands are doing you can’t really make an informed decision about whether or not you should shop at a brand. But the everyday consumer doesn’t know that. They just see the grade and continue on shopping at any brand that has a high rating.’
No one is discrediting the incredible work that organisations like Baptist World Aid provide to empower consumers to shop ethically.
There are however limitations to grading brands and finger pointing and to make a significant change, collaboration between NGO’s, the fashion industry, consumers and the government are required.
Until that happens, a combination of reports and honest conversations will have to do.