RM Williams, Rip Curl and Forever New are some of the most improved businesses when it comes to ethical fashion production, according to a report released by Baptist World Aid (BWA).

Meanwhile, the footwear industry, a new addition to the report, showed the least improvement and was flagged as a sector of concern. 

Footwear brands performed well below the industry average (23/100), with zero of the footwear companies measured paying a living wage at any stage of their supply chain.

Further, none of the footwear companies have traced all inputs (materials) suppliers in contrast to 11.4% of clothing brands.

Just over half of footwear companies couldn’t provide names and addresses for any of their raw materials suppliers (56%), compared to 37% of clothing companies.

And only 8% of footwear brands had a process at final-stage factories to respond to child and forced labour human rights violations when uncovered.

BWA corporate advocacy lead Sarah Knop Knop said that only one in seven fashion companies were able to demonstrate a corrective action plan to eliminate labour exploitation in their supply chains.

“With over 60 million garment workers worldwide, it's time to move beyond policies to take tangible action to empower workers at every stage of the supply chain,” Knop said. “Stories of garment workers like Layla in our guide, who worked 13-hour days from age 14, experienced workplace abuse, to earn just $85 a month, is far too common.”

According to BWA, the report focuses on six key issues in the supply chain: tracing materials beyond final-stage, remediation of labour exploitation, payment of living wages, support for worker voice and empowerment, use of sustainable fibres and commitment to climate action.

The report found that just 10% of global fashion brands pay a living wage at any factory in the final stage of the supply chain,

It also found that 40% of companies don’t know who supplies their raw materials and have no project to trace them.

Released today, BWA said the improvement results are encouraging despite “bleak picture” that the overall results indicate.

The average score for brands included for the last two years increased from 32.5 in 2021 to 34.85 in 2022. In contrast, companies included in the report for the first time this year performed significantly worse with an average score of just 9.7.

BWA corporate advocacy lead Sarah Knop said while cost of living is a concern for many Australians, garment workers across the world are struggling to earn a living wage.

“Only one in ten fashion companies assessed pay a living wage in the final stage of production—even less in the earlier stages of the supply chain,” Knop noted.

“While it's positive to see progress among some brands committed to improving their ethical supply chains in the last year, overall, this year’s Ethical Fashion Report is sobering reading for shoppers, investors and leaders in the fashion industry.

“It’s time for brands to prioritise action over rhetoric, to move from policies and commitments to tangible outcomes that support vulnerable workers and our vulnerable planet."

Seven out of the 10 most improved fashion businesses are Australian-founded and owned:

  1. Forever New (+20.76 to a total score of 52)
  2. R.M. Williams (+20.69 to a total score of 33)
  3. Nobody Denim (+13.83 to a total score of 48)
  4. Rip Curl (+13.76 to a total score of 52)
  5. Lorna Jane (+12.25 to a total score of 20)
  6. Universal Store (+10.76 to a total score of 21)
  7. Kmart and Target Australia (+9.48 to a total score of 56)
  8. Princess Polly (+8.04 to a total score of 48)
  9. Boohoo (+8.04 to a total score of 24)
  10. Ralph Lauren (+7.97 to a total score of 40)

The report is now in its ninth edition and publishes scores out of 100, instead of the previous A+ to F grading system.

The ninth edition of the report assessed 120 companies, representing 581 brands (161 more than 2021) and found an average score of just 29 out of 100.

In comparison, the top scoring companies in 2022 are:

  1. Mighty Good Basics (86)
  2. Patagonia (68)
  3. AS COLOUR (66)
  4. Inditex (60)
  5. Adidas (58)
  6. Puma (58)
  7. Hanesbrands (58)
  8. Rodd & Gunn (58)
  9. Nudie Jeans Co (57)
  10. Kmart and Target Australia (56)
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