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Sustainable Fashion: A Closer Look at Transparency

Sustainable Fashion: A Closer Look at Transparency

Dr. Md. Rafiqul Islam Rana

Assistant Professor

Department of Retailing

University of South Carolina

In recent years, the fashion industry's environmental and social impact has come under increased scrutiny, prompting a closer examination of how brands disclose their sustainability efforts. Utilizing seven years of available longitudinal data (2017-2023) from the Fashion Transparency Index (FTI), a detailed study explores the transparency of sustainability disclosures among 90 prominent fashion brands. Set against a backdrop of significant global challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened awareness of climate change, and calls for social justice, this analysis draws on moral responsibility theory to shed light on an industry facing pressure to demonstrate its commitment to ethical practices.

The study reveals a complex landscape where fashion brands are gradually opening up about their sustainability policies, governance, and commitments to human rights and environmental protection. In 2022, it was noted that a vast majority of companies on the G250 index were making their sustainability initiatives public, reflecting a broader trend towards transparency driven by increasing public and regulatory expectations.

However, the research identifies a critical gap in the disclosure of outcomes related to these sustainability efforts. While there is a willingness among brands to talk about their strategies and commitments, there is a noticeable lack of detailed reporting on the actual impacts of these initiatives, especially within supply chains. This gap points to a broader issue within the industry: a disparity between the promise of sustainability and the practical realization of these commitments.

The concept of "imperfect duties" is highlighted, illustrating the flexibility brands have in deciding what aspects of their sustainability efforts to disclose. This selective transparency is critiqued for potentially hindering real progress towards sustainable practices. The study argues that without the pressure of mandatory reporting requirements and the risk of penalties for non-disclosure, the industry's move towards full transparency and accountability may be slow.

Despite these challenges, the study notes an emerging trend of improving supply chain transparency across both mass-market and luxury segments. This suggests an increasing acknowledgment of the importance of transparency across the industry, though the speed of change varies, and many brands are still in the early stages of embracing comprehensive transparency.

The call for a shift towards enforced transparency is clear, with recommendations for governments to introduce stricter reporting standards and penalties for those that fail to comply. Such measures are seen as essential for pushing the fashion industry beyond superficial commitments towards genuinely responsible and transparent practices.

This examination of the fashion industry's sustainability disclosures presents a pathway for brands to align their public commitments with actual practices. By doing so, the industry can move towards a future where it not only dresses the world but does so with integrity and a commitment to protecting both people and the planet.

The study was led by Dr. Iva Jestratijevic of the University of North Texas, an expert in retail and sustainability; Dr. James O. Uanhoro, a specialist in statistics from the same university; and Dr. Md. Rafiqul Islam Rana from the University of South Carolina, known for his work in retail supply chain management and sustainability.

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