Ethical Fashion Report 2019

The results are in for the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report which highlights improvements for the industry and also recognises the rating system isn’t quite as clear cut as it may appear.

By Carolyn Enting

The release of the annual Ethical Fashion Report compiled by Tearfund in partnership with Baptist World Aid Australia is something that many fashion brands dread because a bad score can be bad for business.

We just have to look back a few years to remember a public Twitter slinging match between two high profile designers. One who had scored a C, and comments from another NZ-made brand who was not part of the Report that year but decided to weigh-in. Names will remain nameless here.

Before revealing the scores of this year’s contenders it is worth noting that Tearfund have been open about the scoring process this year. Essentially if you are a fashion brand and are approached by Tearfund to participate and decline or are non-responsive you could receive a range of grades from a B to an F based on the level of information each company makes available to the public.

This is why Tearfund acknowledges that non-responsive companies may be doing more to improve their ethical sourcing than they can be assessed on.

Tearfund believes, however, if brands do not disclose, or are unwilling to disclose what they are doing to ensure workers are not exploited in their supply chains, then it becomes near impossible for consumers to know if these brands are investing sufficiently to mitigate these risks. They have a point, and in an age where the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh happened, something has to change and consumers are rightly demanding transparency.

For smaller brands from New Zealand who do things differently from global mega brands, the assessment process, many argue, is not wholly relevant. Nor, are the results wholly clear cut, as Tearfund acknowledges.

For example, in the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report released today, Kate Sylvester is listed D+ and unresponsive. It’s worth noting that Kate Sylvester is made in New Zealand. Her diffusion line Sylvester is made in China and has the Child Labor Free ‘manufacturing’ accreditation tick. Kate Sylvester is also co-founder of the new Mindful Fashion NZ initiative which will help consumers make informed choices about buying local designs.

Currently the only stamp of approval is from the Ethical Fashion Report. As reported recently by Viva, the hope is that by New Zealand designers banding together, Mindful Fashion NZ will allow local designers to share the auditing expense – as many designers use the same suppliers – and set up a Code of Conduct for everyone involved in the making of a garment to sign. Ideally this will also give designers more bargaining power, particularly when it comes to fabric and traceability.

Tearfund can pat themselves on the back for helping make this happen as it is a direct response to the Ethical Fashion Report and the difficulties smaller brands face when they participate in the process.

“In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen New Zealand designers join forces under the banner of Mindful Fashion to address challenges around auditing and supply chain tracing. I’m thrilled to see these designers take the necessary steps and come up with a creative solution to ensuring workers are not exploited in their supply chains,” says Tearfund’s CEO, Ian McInnes. “The sort of positive change that will take place because of Mindful Fashion is exactly what we are seeking to achieve with the Ethical Fashion Report and we are in full support of these brands’ efforts.”

New Zealand designers backing Mindful Fashion NZ include co-founder Ruby as well as Ingrid Starnes, Juliette Hogan, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Nature Baby, Harman Grubisa, Tanya Carlson, Paris Georgia, Twenty-Seven Names, Wynn Hamlyn and Maggie Marilyn with more expected to join.

So back to this year’s report!

Icebreaker, Kowtow, Kathmandu, Nature Baby and AS Colour are among the top New Zealand performers so kudos there!

Kowtow has improved their grade from an A to an A+ in 2019

In the past year, 38 per cent of companies have improved their overall grade, with a significant improvement across the industry in 79 per cent of the areas assessed. These areas include development in gender equality, responsible purchasing practices, child and forced labour remediation plans, and transparency.

In fact, this year the Ethical Fashion Report has seen the most substantial progress in traceability down the supply chain since its conception in 2013.

McInnes, says this is a sign that accountability is starting to motivate change from companies.

“All participating New Zealand companies, except one, have held or improved their grade in the last 12 months,” he says. “We commend all these companies for their consistent efforts to protect workers in their supply chain.”

This year, in addition to the four established key areas of grading (policies, transparency and traceability, auditing and supplier relationships, and worker employment), Tearfund has added a fifth grading criteria – environmental management.

It is the first year the Ethical Fashion Report has accounted for how companies are monitoring and mitigating their environmental impact throughout the supply chain.

Tearfund’s Education & Advocacy Manager, Claire Hart, leads the Ethical Fashion Report research and had this to say about the addition of environmental metrics: “The fashion industry causes significant environmental degradation, which affects the wellbeing of workers, the community and their natural environment.”

“The production of clothing involves large quantities of harmful chemicals, a high volume of water and wastewater, as well as high emissions and general waste. Through assessing their materials and facilities, brands can take informed steps to reduce their environmental impact from the farm to the final product. For these reasons, we’ve chosen to expand the Ethical Fashion Report’s focus beyond labour rights into environmental sustainability.”

The report’s key findings

Seven New Zealand companies were graded in the A range, up from five in 2018. Ten NZ companies received grades of D or lower. The other 11 scored in between.

Icebreaker, Kowtow, Kathmandu, Nature Baby and AS Colour are among the top New Zealand performers.

Only 5% of companies can demonstrate they are paying a living wage to all workers at their final stage of production, highlighting the need for improvement in this area.


  • 32% more companies are tracing inputs suppliers
  • 31% more companies are tracing raw materials suppliers
  • 69% of companies trace all final stage suppliers, however only 18% have traced all inputs suppliers and just 8% have traced all raw material suppliers.


  • 37% of companies have published a complete list of suppliers at the final stage of production, which has more than doubled since 2013.


  • Eleven questions were asked in order to measure a company’s impacts on climate, chemical management practices, water usage, use of sustainable fibres, provision of take-back and repair programs, and, finally, whether had completed an environmental impact assessment.
  • 14% more companies now have a comprehensive Manufacturing Restrictive Substance List (MRSL) that they test against to ensure workers are not exposed to hazardous chemicals with environmental impacts.

Worker empowerment

  • Worker empowerment was the poorest graded section of the 2019 research, with a median grade of D.
  • Only 8% of companies could demonstrate the presence of trade unions or collective bargaining agreements in all of their factories. 21% could demonstrate the presence in the majority of factories
  • Only 19% of companies could show that all workers were trained in their rights regarding freedom of association.
  • 33% of companies had a functioning grievance mechanism available to all workers at final stage of production. This dropped to just 2% at raw materials.
  • 22% more companies have created policies addressing gender inequality in the supply chain, including a strategy addressing discrimination faced by women.
  • 15% more companies now have robust remediation plans to redress child or forced labour if it is found in their supply chain.

Living wages

  • Just 5% of companies could demonstrate they were paying a living wage to all workers at their final stage of production.
  • While there is a great deal of improvement yet to be made in the industry regarding living wages, steps are being taken:
  • 48% of companies have started to develop a living wage methodology
  • 24% of companies have a published commitment to pay living wages
  • 14% of companies have projects to improve wages in the majority of factories

New companies added in 2019

  • 3 Wise Men – Non-responsive
  • Baby City – Non-responsive
  • Huffer – Non-responsive
  • Hunting & Fishing – Non-responsive
  • Kate Sylvester – Non-responsive
  • Merric – Non-responsive
  • Nature Baby – Responsive
  • Pagani – Responsive
  • Swanndri – Non-responsive
  • The Baby Factory – Non-responsive
  • World – Non-responsive

Non-responsive = chose not to engage with the 2019 research.

How they scored in 2019

  • 3 Wise Men* – F
  • AS Colour – A-
  • Baby City* – F
  • Barkers* – C+
  • Max* – C
  • Farmers* – F
  • Freeset – A+
  • Hallenstein Glassons Holding – B+
  • Huffer – B-
  • Hunting & Fishing – D+
  • Icebreaker – A+
  • K&K – C-
  • Karen Walker* – B
  • Kate Sylvester* – D+
  • Kathmandu – A
  • Kowtow – A+
  • Liminal – A+
  • Macpac – B-
  • Merric* – F
  • Nature Baby – A-
  • Pagani – C-
  • Postie – C
  • Ruby – C
  • Swanndri – C+
  • T &T – F
  • Trelise Cooper* – F
  • The Baby Factory* – F
  • The Warehouse Group – B-
  • WORLD* – D-


Nature Baby is one of the new companies added to the report in 2019 and scored an A-

Download the full report

Share the love
Rate This Article:
Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Sign up to our email newsletters for your weekly dose of good