Karen Walker to vet fac­to­ries af­ter back­lash on ethics grade

Sus­tain­able cloth­ing re­port doesn’t visit fac­to­ries, fash­ion de­signer tells Chloe Win­ter.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

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.

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