A. There are all kinds of things you could consider when trying to decide how 'ethical' clothes are. You could look at the environmental impact of the factory e.g. whether they're dumping nasty stuff into local rivers or how much energy they use in production. Or you could look at what they do with their profits. Or you could look at their approach to animal welfare issues. They are of course all important, but there are so many possible areas the amount of information can become overwhelming and bewildering - and ultimately you might decide that there all as bad as each other because inevitably every company seems to rank poorly in one area or another.
We took the decision to focus initially on the conditions of workers in factories. We think other issues are very important too - particularly the environmental record of a company. But we had to start somewhere.
We chose to begin with working conditions because we think these are some of the most fundamental ethical issues a company needs to grapple with. If a worker is not paid enough then her children may go without food. If workers are forced to sweat for hours a day in unsafe conditions then it can mean death or lifelong injury for them. We think that getting these things right should be one of the top ethical priorities of any clothing company.
We hope that in future we might be able to expand MeasureUp to consider other important ethical issues.
A. There are, of course, endless things you could measure, but we wanted to keep it simple. There is a danger that too much information can overwhelm and it is simply not read or used. If you have the time to find out more, there are other organisations such as Ethical Consumer or Labour behind the Label that have done more detailed analysis of different companies. And you can always look at the ethical reports on company websites themselves.
We started off by doing a bit of research into ethical trading. We weren't experts so we wanted to see what others had already done. We looked at the websites of the likes of the International Labour Organisation, the UK's Ethical Trading Initiative and the 'Labour Behind the Label' campaign. This helped us to understand better the key issues involved and to get an idea of the sort of thing it would be useful to measure.
There's already a lot of information out there about business ethics and some detailed studies of companies' performance. But what we think is missing is a quick and easy way for consumers to check and compare the performance of their favourite companies - without having to do three days of research! There are already some studies that rank companies according to their ethical performance. But usually these rely on detailed assessments with complicated weightings given to different factors. It's not usually quick and easy to understand how the person who conducted the study arrived at their conclusions. We wanted to provide something different.
Our aim is that our indicators should be:
If you click on a company's score for each indicator it will take you to the evidence behind that score. If possible we have taken this from publicly available information on the company's website - so that you can check the answer for yourself if you want to.
Where the information isn't available on the company's website, we contacted them directly to ask for it. We have provided quotes from the information that they gave us so that you can see for yourself what they said.
We agree. Our assessments are imperfect. But they provide a starting point. Of course, even if a company could meet all our ten indicators it doesn't mean they are 'ethical' - but we think it probably puts them a long way ahead of most of the fashion companies out there. So, if more companies could meet these ten basic standards, then that would be a sign of good progress.
It would be wonderful if the fashion industry were in a position to be assessed against more exacting standards. Unfortunately, at the moment that simply isn't the case.
We thought there was no point in providing a set of ten indicators and then telling you that no company could meet any of them! That wouldn't help you make better decisions about where to shop. So we had to start with the things the industry is doing at the moment and show you which companies at least can meet these basic standards. That way you can genuinely differentiate between companies.
Our Top Ten table shows which companies met the highest number of our indicators. But whether that means they are the best or not is a subjective question that we cannot presume to answer. Our indicators show some of the main commitments a company has made in relation to the people who make their clothes. But some of these commitments are more important than others, which is why we haven't explicitly added them up to give a score out of ten (see below). And there are also many other things that could make a company good or bad, including: how they treat other staff; what environmental policies they have; whether their suppliers get a fair price; how they invest their money; how they market their products; and so the list goes on. At the moment it is beyond the scope of MeasureUp to assess all these issues.
We didn't think that would be fair because it would assume that the same weight could be attached to each of the indicators. This is not the case. For example, it's easy for a company to have a code of conduct that meets International Labour Organisation standards (Indicator 1) but much more difficult for a company to provide evidence that its workers are actually being paid a living wage (Indicator 3).
In line with our aim to be as objective as possible we want the results to speak for themselves, rather than add them up to obtain an artificial score for each company. It's up to you to decide which indicators are most important to you. Most companies meet some but not all of them.