Progress on transparency about ethical practices in the garment supply chain is still too slow, according to the latest Fashion Transparency Index.

The annual piece of research, analysing and ranking 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers, champions the companies with the best records of transparency such as supplier Gildan.

The report was published this month by global activism group Fashion Revolution, which campaigns for more transparency in the garment supply chain through campaigns such as #WhoMadeYourClothes.

It also identified areas of slow progress across the industry such as living wage and carbon emissions as well as delayed payments to suppliers since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It flagged up how fashion brands benefited from positive PR supporting social justice but fell short when disclosing racial and ethnic data.

It also highlighted how major fashion brands disclosed very little information about their efforts to address overproduction, plastic use, and waste despite the urgency of the climate crisis.

Although advances are being made in levels of transparency, the report concluded by calling for better legislation to hold major fashion brands to account for their impacts on people and the planet.

Sarah Ditty, Fashion Revolution’s global policy director and author of the report, noted that the global fashion industry had been turned upside down since the outbreak of Covid-19 and that since then the industry has backslid on many human rights and environmental issues.

“This year’s Fashion Transparency Index shows encouraging signs that some progress is being made on transparency, but there is a lot more that big brands need to be doing in this area.

“The world’s largest brands and retailers disclose very little about their efforts to address important topics such as poor purchasing practices, living wages, racial and gender equality, overproduction and waste, water use and carbon emissions in the supply chain. Big brands can and should do more to publicly address their social and environmental impacts.”

In the index, Italian brand OVS scored highest this year with 78%, followed by H&M at 68%, Timberland and The North Face at 66%, C&A and Vans at 65%, Gildan at 63%, Esprit and United Colors of Benetton at 60%, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Van Heusen at 59% and Gucci, Target Australia and Kmart Australia at 56%.

Other brands listed include Helly Hansen, which scored well on traceability, and Fruit of the Loom, which scored best on the human rights and environmental policies and procedures that it publishes.

Gildan scored particularly well for traceability – one of only four brands to score over 90% in that section. This means it published detailed factory lists among its first-tier manufacturers as well as some of its processing materials and raw materials suppliers further down the chain.

The index is based on the brands’ public disclosure of human rights and environmental policies, practices and impacts, in their operations and supply chains.

Among key findings, the report revealed that 99% of the top 250 fashion brands and retailers did not disclose the number of workers in their supply chain that were being paid a living wage, and 96% did not publish a roadmap on how they planned to achieve a living wage for all workers in their supply chain.

The report welcomed the news that 62% of big brands published their carbon footprint in their own facilities but only 26% disclosed this information at processing and manufacturing level and only 17% did so at raw material level. Most carbon emissions occur at processing and raw material levels.

However, 27% of major brands disclosed some of their processing facilities, such as spinning mills, dye-houses and laundries – up from 24% last year.

Only 3% were publicly disclosing the number of workers in their supply chains laid off due to Covid-19, which left Fashion Revolution with an “incomplete picture” of the negative socioeconomic impact workers have faced throughout the pandemic.

Only 18% of major brands disclosed the percentage of their complete or partial order cancellations, making it difficult to assess the full impact of the pandemic across fashion supply chains.

Major brands also delayed payments to their suppliers, and Fashion Revolution’s research found that fewer than 10% of brands published a policy to pay suppliers within 60 days, meaning that clothes were often worn by consumers before brands had paid the factories that made them.

This year’s index included new indicators which questioned major brands on whether they published their actions on the “promotion of racial equality” within their business. Only 12% of brands published relevant information.

The report challenged brands that are withholding information on the racial and ethnic data of employment and pay differences in their own operations and supply chains, especially in areas employing predominantly women of colour. It suggested that brands could continue to benefit from the public portrayal of solidarity for social causes including gender, racial and ethnic equality while not actually providing evidence on how they are addressing inequalities in their own operations and supply chains.

The report highlighted that major brands were not disclosing enough environmental data. Just 14% disclosed the overall quantity of products made annually, making it difficult to understand the scale of overproduction globally. It found 32% had permanent clothing take-back schemes in place but only 22% disclosed what happened to the clothes received through these schemes, which typically involved unwanted clothing being resold overseas rather than recycled into new textiles and clothing.

While 36% had published their progress towards reducing the use of virgin plastics for packaging, only 18% had done so for textiles deriving from virgin fossil fuels, which consumers are less likely to recognise as plastic.

Fashion Revolution’s co-founder and global operations director, Carry Somers, added: “The Fashion Transparency Index is not designed to give consumers the low-down on where to shop. We launched the index in 2016 to help the public hold brands and retailers to account for their actions within their supply chain. We want the public to use this information to charge their activism and not their credit card.”