Friday 23 July 2021

5 Greenwashing Campaigns Trying to Fool You

Greenwashing is everywhere in the fashion industry. Well, every industry. But fashion is a particular offender. The entire business model of fast fashion is inherently unsustainable, based on the exploitation of poor women in previously colonised countries and of the environment. To continue to appeal to their consumer bases in a time of ever-worsening climate crisis, damaging brands resort to greenwashing. I briefly touched on this in a previous blog post (and will go into it in more detail in a future post) but for those of you who don’t know, greenwashing is essentially a brand lying about their ethics, spending more money on the marketing of their ‘sustainable image’ than making their brand actually sustainable. This is often a focus on ‘organic’ materials while completely leaving out the working conditions of the people (mostly women) who make their clothes. 


Greenwashing can be difficult to see through especially now that some of the brands have had many years of practise and have literally billions of pounds to pour into this façade. Hopefully this post will help you out at least a little bit! I’ve left out the OG Fashion Greenwashers, H&M (with their ironically named Conscious Collection) as this is a brand who are regularly called out for their greenwashing, but it’s important that we remember that so many other brands are guilty of this too. Although, still, f*ck H&M.

For credits of image used in title, see images used separately below

1. George Cares

Reader, George does not in fact ‘care’. They really, genuinely, do not care. About you, about their workers, or about the environment. 


The ‘George Cares’ campaign doesn’t have any specific products attached to it, and is more of a general overview of how George wants to be perceived. Their website has a few flashy pictures and information about various initiatives they’re a part of, including some things which are undeniably good – like the phasing out of sandblasting, boycott of Uzbek cotton over child labour, and zero tolerance policy on incineration. However, they do not provide enough detail for us to know the accuracy of these statements. Their supply chain must be massive, and they need to be able to tell us every aspect of it. Similarly, other bits of information mentioned on this website, that they clear want us to congratulate and clap them on the back for, are things that really are a bit average and frankly not good enough. For instance, the discuss how they are ‘committed to ensuring all our own-brand clothing and soft home textile products will be responsibly sourced’ and that they ‘are committed to sourcing 100% of our polyester with a minimum of 30% recycled content by 2025’. The final sentence I’ve cited here particularly doesn’t really make any sense. The ‘100%’ in this sentence seems a bit useless if you ask me. What they seem to be saying is that in the next 3.5 years between now and 2025 they only aim to have a third of their polyester as recycled material. A material that is made from fossil fuels and which they acknowledge is harming the planet in many ways including microfibers. A lot of fancy wording and pictures but they’re not telling us anything of substance. Similarly, there is nothing in this particular statement, supposedly on their commitment to responsible sourcing, that mentions the workers within their supply chain. 


Elsewhere on their website, they highlight Salvation Army as one of their charity partners. On the surface this may seem good, but Salvation Army have had many reported incidents of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people seeking to access their services. Again, I will ask, who exactly does George care about?  


George has been ASDA’s own fashion brand since 1990, and was the first supermarket clothing brand. ASDA in turn is owned by the American corporation Walmart, having been bought out in 1999. Walmart, apparently ‘the world’s biggest retailer’ is notorious for its horrifying ethics. From bribery, slavery, and prison labour (see Ava DuVerney’s 13th for more on this last one), Walmart has seen them all. It always seems like the more I look the more the Walmart ethics spiral continues. Perhaps unsurprisingly given their reputation, Walmart were one of the main names who came up in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013. This factory collapse killed +1,334 people (most of them women), injured over 2,000 more and left over 800 children orphaned. It is the worst industrial disaster in the fashion industry’s history and was completely preventable. With such an exploitative history, who could be surprised that Walmart received 16/100 points by Remake in their Brand Directory. 


 In 2020, Walmart sold part of their shares in ASDA so they no longer have majority ownership, but still maintain significant shares and profit greatly from George and ASDA products more generally. George is by no means ethical.

2. Recycled by Pretty Little Thing


We know that simply recycling, while good, will not solve the climate crisis. Instead, we need a circular economy which reduce waste and keeps materials in use. What we do not need is the ridiculously high rates of consumption encouraged by brands like PLT with their 99% off sales as we saw near the end of 2020. This range comprises of only 250 items, whereas on their ‘New In’ page, PLT lists over 2089 items. You read that right, 2089 ITEMS! That means that their recycled range is less than 10% of their ‘New In’ items, and even less of their overall stock. Come on PLT, we can see past your lies. 


Pretty Little Thing are owned by Boohoo, a company that is probably number one on my hit list. Boohoo may be a relatively newer brand compared to some high street shops, but they are one of the absolute worst when it comes to workers’ rights and their environmental impact. Boohoo have had multiple ‘exposes’ relating to their maltreatment of workers and are now notorious for their unethical practices and environmental harm. One of the most recent exposes came in June 2020 after the organisation Labour Behind the Label (the UK’s branch of the Clean Clothes Campaign) published a report on Boohoo’s actions during the first stages of the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, it was not good. 


This report is damning in so many ways. The main takeaway though is that Boohoo were forcing potentially thousands of garment workers to go into unsafe factories to work throughout the first (and probably second) lockdown. In my opinion, they are responsible for Leicester being the first area in the UK to go into a lockdown. That’s not confirmed by anyone, but again, that’s just my personal opinion. In addition to this, these workers were paid an average of £3.50/hour, with that average dropping to as low as £1.50 for migrant workers. Boohoo source 80% of their stock from factories in Leicester, an area where they account for an estimated 80% of all factories in the city. During the pandemic they increased their factory use from an estimated 60-70%. In garment terms, they dominate the city’s industry. That’s a lot of power. There’s a lot in that report that simply won’t fit in a blog post. I highly encourage you to give it a read. 


Additionally, PLT also have a gender pay gap of 29%. For context, the average gender pay gap in the UK is 17%. This pay gap only accounts for the workers in their head offices, rather than their whole supply chain. Can you imagine how high that would be if everyone contributing to PLT’s clothes was counted in that statistic?!


As a general summary of all this exploitation, Boohoo (and from them PLT and other subsidiary companies such as Nasty Gal, MissPap, Karen Millen, Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, etc. as well) received 3/100 points from Remake – there’s no way they can claim that’s good. 


Recently, PLT and Boohoo in general has amped up their greenwashing efforts, with outrageous posts from Nasty Gal and Boohoo coming out in the past few weeks. We see behind the façade Boohoo!

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3. Primark Cares

Do you remember a few months ago when Laura Whitmore shared that Instagram post about how Primark were actually really ethical and cared about the environment? Yep, everything in that post wasn’t true, and the announcement of her new title as Primark Cares Ambassador kicked off this smokescreen of a campaign. While her claims that ‘Sustainability should be accessible to all!’ is absolutely correct, providing Primark as the solution to this problem is more than misguided (and they’re not the solution either! See what I did there? Ah I make myself laugh…).


Primark were one of the brands who were most associated with the Rana Plaza disaster. They have also been associated with many other workers’ rights incidents and haven’t shown signs of wanting to make meaningful change in their supply chains. After the Rana Plaza factory collapse, Primark became one of the signatories of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which made basic health and safety measures legally-binding. The Accord is due to expire on 31 August, nearly a mont’s time, and Primark have not yet committed to renewing the Accord. As I just mentioned, the Accord ensures the basic necessities to keep garment workers in Bangladesh alive. In order to back up any kind of claim that they ‘care’, Primark must commit to renewing the Accord. 


At the beginning of 2021, a military coup occurred in Myanmar, and there has since been a string of continuing violence, with garment workers at the frontlines of resistance. Garment workers in the country directly called for brands to boycott the state in a stand against the new regime, calling to sacrifice their own jobs for their cause. In March 2021 it was reported that one of Primark’s supplying factories in Myanmar had locked their workers inside the factory to prevent them from taking part in the protests against the regime.  


In Remake’s Brand Directory, Primark scores 25/100. While better than brands like PLT, George and Urban Outfitters, the bar is hardly particularly high. If we took these brands as the unethical standard for other brands to be compared to, the bar would barely exist. 


And what is it with brands using the word ‘Cares’ in their campaigns? Stop, we know you really don’t give a shit! It just seems patronising to me…

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4. Urban Renewal

Brands like Urban Outfitters and Free People (which are both owned by the same parent company, URBN) may seem like they’re a bit hippy, a bit edgy, and up to date with popular progressive ideologies, and yet they are a brand who crop up time and time again when it comes to ethics scandals and seem to have no inclination to do anything about them.


Not only have they still not paid their garment workers for orders placed at the beginning of the pandemic over 16 months ago, but they also have a history of cultural appropriation (for instance when they were sued by the Navajo Nation for using their cultural symbols) and their CEO Richard Haynes has donated thousands to a homophobic and anti-abortion Senator. In the Remake Brand Directory, they scored a measly 3 points out of a potential 100, putting them on par with the likes of Pretty Little Thing. That is simply not acceptable. With all this happening in their supply chain they have the gall to call themselves sustainable. Where exactly is the ‘Renewal’ in Urban and its sister companies? 


Urban Renewal currently comprises of 659 products. This is compared to 2946 items in their Women’s section and 1427 products in the Men’s section. That’s nearly 22% of the overall women’s section and 46% of the men’s. Urban, why not make it 100%?


Similarly, when you look at the fabrics of all of these products, Urban give the description of ‘100% Vintage Fibres’. This incredibly vague description makes it difficult for anyone wanting to be able to care for their clothes properly. It says to hand-wash but even then, we know the washing advice on a level probably and they’d probably be fine to go through a washing machine if done properly, especially if we know what the damn material is! The whole point in sustainability and of clothing ‘renewal’ is to extend the life of a garment so that the impact of its creation is reduced and the work of the person who made it is valued. Its life will not be extended for very long if its owner cannot care for it correctly. 

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5. Everlane


Yes, I do mean their entire brand not one specific campaign. Don’t get me wrong, Everlane are really not as bad as the other brands on this list (they are marked 45/100 by Remake), but just because they’re a bit more ethical doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held to account. In fact, if they claim to be one of the good guys, I think they should be monitored more closely so that they don’t succumb to the lures of fast fashion. If companies are calling themselves one of the good ones, we need to know that they actually are just that. Remake and other organisations highlight how the brand aren’t doing enough, especially when they market themselves as an ethical and sustainable frontrunner. In an article published in December 2020, Remake marked Everlane as one of fashion’s worst greenwashers. Yikes, that’s a title you do not want. 


In the pandemic, not only were they one of the brands consistently targeted by the #PayUp campaign, they have also had many union issues relating to lay-offs and union-busting. Their laid-off workers were even supported by Bernie Sanders. Everlane’s main issues is workers’ rights. They have a lot about ‘sustainable’ materials on their website but go into very little detail on their workers. We need to know what their working conditions are like, exactly how much they’re paid, and if they get things like maternity and sick leave. Until all of those details and more are provided, Everlane cannot claim ‘Radical Transparency’.

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If you liked this post you might like: 5 Easy Ways You Can Support Garment Workers

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