Transparency in a Post-Truth World

by Carry Somers 10 months ago
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Oxford Dictionaries declared post-truth to be the international word of the year for 2016. The word was chosen to reflect the politics of the past twelve months. Truth has been relegated to a bit part on a stage where politicians appeal to emotions and feelings, rather than thoughts and minds.

Fashion Revolution is a pro-truth campaign.

A poem by Sasha Haines-Stiles in Fashion Revolution’s new zine Money Fashion Power concludes:

Who embroiders truth
Who’s naked underneath
Who are you
Who are you wearing?

Alec Doherty

Illustration by Alec Doherty

 For Fashion Revolution, truth means transparency and transparency implies honesty, openness, communication and accountability. Transparency means that if human rights or environmental abuses are discovered, it is far easier for relevant stakeholders to understand what went wrong, who is responsible and how to fix it. It also helps unions, communities and garment workers themselves to more swiftly alert brands to human rights and environmental concerns.

In order to create a sustainable fashion industry for the future, brands, and retailers must start to take responsibility for the people and communities on which their business depends. The factories operating in the Rana Plaza complex made clothes for over a dozen well-known international clothing brands, but it took weeks for some companies to determine whether they had contracts with those factories, despite their clothing labels being found in the rubble. Lack of transparency costs lives. It is impossible for companies to make sure human rights are respected and that environmental practices are sound without knowing where their products are made, who is making them and under what conditions. If you can’t see it, you don’t know it’s going on and you can’t fix it. Tragedies like Rana Plaza are preventable, but they will continue to happen until every stakeholder in the fashion supply chain is responsible and accountable for their actions and impacts.

This week sees the inauguration of new US President Donald J Trump. The Washington Post called him ‘the least transparent U.S. presidential candidate in modern history’ due to his failure to release his tax returns or provide evidence for the tens of millions of dollars he has reportedly donated to charity.

At Fashion Revolution, we are working on compiling the next edition of the Fashion Transparency Index which will cover 100 of the major global fashion brands with a turnover above $1.2 billion. Ivanka Trump’s brand does not disclose her financials, but we thought it would be interesting to measure her transparency against the criteria we used for the 2016 index to see how she would score. Last year we rated and ranked 40 companies based on how transparent they are. Those who are more transparent get more marks than those who are less transparent. It uses a ratings methodology, which benchmarks companies against current and basic best practice in supply chain transparency in five key areas:

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The lowest percentage scores in our 2016 index, were achieved by Chanel who scored just 10%, and Hermès and Claire’s Accessories who each scored 17%.

Measured against the same criteria, Ivanka Trump’s brand would have scored 0%. Her website discloses no information at all. Nothing.

Fashion Revolution’s mantra is Be Curious, Find Out, Do Something. We ask people to dig deeper, look for evidence, hold brands to account, ask them #whomademyclothes. The New York Times has carried out research into Ivanka Trump’s supply chain.   According to a review of shipments compiled by import databases Panjiva and Import Genius, the latter of which tallied 193 shipments for the brand during 2016, her shoes and handbags are made principally in China, whilst her dresses and blouses are made in China, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Ivanka Trump’s website is post-truth. It’s not untruthful, but it appeals to the emotions of consumers to sell her clothing, rather than providing any facts. It claims to be the ultimate destination for Women Who Work, but what about the women who work for her in China, Indonesia and Vietnam? Her website contains no code of ethics, no supplier or vendor code of conduct, no sustainability or CSR report, no manufacturing list, no human rights or environmental policies. Nothing.

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In the past month, critics of Donald Trump have taken to posting ironic reviews of Ivanka Trump’s Issa boots on Amazon.

On 13 December Lucinda Tinsman posted

Very narrow boots; go well with people with a narrow-minded outlook on life and actively the validity of people of diverse backgrounds from being worthy of civil rights. Because they are made of man-made materials, very difficult to breathe in. Due to the escalation of climate change they are linked to, in all likelihood the wearer will not be able to breathe at all within one generation. They are the product of pure greed, which doesn’t make any sense because even the wealthiest individuals’ children and children will die if their father’s and father’s father’s actions led to a world that cannot support human life, which is what is happening as we speak. Do not buy, for the good of the country or for the good of your children.

Susan Harper gave the boots a five star rating, explaining

The leather is perfectly conditioned with the sweat and tears of underpaid sweatshop workers, and will keep its beautiful sheen for years.

Without being truthful and transparent about how and where her clothes are made, Ivanka Trump can do little to refute disparaging comments about her supply chain. Yes, the reviews are ironic, but if Ivanka Trump had been more honest from the outset, she could perhaps have avoided significant reputational damage to her brand.

The Globescan Corporate Responsibility Radar 2016 found that transparency is a critical driver of trust in business; being seen as open and honest is the most significant driver of trust, yet consumers across the world rate the performance of companies poorly for “being open and honest.” Brands not only need to know their supply chain in detail, but this information also needs to be made available to the consumer in a way which informs and educates and starts to rebuild public trust in the fashion industry.  Brands who practice transparency can help build customer trust and enhance their reputation at the same time as safeguarding the health and wellbeing of their workers and the environment.

As George Orwell said in 1984 ‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act’. So let’s see a revolution and let’s make transparency the word of the year for 2017.

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 On 24th April 2017, the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, the second edition of our Fashion Transparency Index will be published. It will review and rank 100 of the biggest global fashion and apparel brands and retailers according to their level of supply chain transparency. Brands have been chosen on the basis of two factors: 1) voluntarily requested to be included; and 2) according to annual turnover, over $1.2 billion USD and representing a variety of sectors including high street, luxury, sportswear, accessories, footwear and denim from across Europe, North America, South America and Asia.  


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