Karen Walker to vet factories after backlash on ethics grade
Sustainable clothing report doesn’t visit factories, fashion designer tells Chloe Winter.
KIWI fashion designer Karen Walker has hit out at the charities behind an ethical clothing report, claiming staff don’t even leave their desks when deciding which clothing firms to hang out to dry.
Walker’s brand was one of 18 New Zealand companies graded in a global ethical clothing report released by Tearfund New Zealand and Baptist World Aid Australia earlier this month.
The report faced backlash from some clothing designers who labelled the report ‘‘inconsistent and unreliable’’, and said the timeframe to provide a full report was unrealistic.
Walker, whose brand received a C grade, said she would start personally visiting factories, unlike the charities involved in the report.
The charities’ research teams graded companies from their desks in Auckland and Sydney, Walker said.
‘‘We believe that fashion can only be fair through vigilant inspection of compliance.’’
Tearfund education and advocacy coordinator Claire Hart said it was not a secret the research team did not visit every factory.
‘‘We don’t do any site inspections, so she’s right … and we are completely transparent about that. Therefore, company grades are not an assessment of actual conditions in factories and farms, but rather an analysis of the strength of a company’s labour rights systems.
‘‘This research relies on data that is publicly available, alongside evidence of systems and practices provided by companies themselves.’’
Hart said they did not see ‘‘much value’’ in visiting factories, as there were many other companies and organisations doing that.
Instead, they trawled through ‘‘a lot’’ of audit reports and corrective action plans, she said.
‘‘So it’s purely secondary data, but it is stringently verified.’’
Walker said the company did not participate in the 2018 report because she believed she could use her resources in a more effective way.
Walker’s production manager visited manufacturing sites at least 15 times a year, while her China-based quality control manager visited the sites up to 40 times a year, she said.
This year, Walker would start visiting the factories herself.
Hart said resources would only be strained if companies had not completed any audits into their supply chains.
‘‘Anything that we are requesting from companies are documentation that a company already will have if they are taking the right steps to understand their supply chain.
‘‘A company that has sought to understand their supply chain and find out information about it, will have a lot of information on hand,’’ she said.
‘‘And, yes, there is a time resource there, in terms of collating it and getting it to us, but if a company is on the journey to ethical sourcing, they are going to have that information that won’t be too hard to find.’’
Walker said she took the responsibility of running an ethical and environmentally responsible fashion brand seriously. ‘‘It is my name on the label.’’ Meanwhile, fellow fashion designer Trelise Cooper, whose brands received an F because of her refusal to take part in the report and lack of publicly available information, said the charities demanded an ‘‘arbitrary, limited timeframe for a very intense and detailed report that we simply could not meet’’.
Karen Walker says the report’s researchers grade companies from their desks.