RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The 20 biggest fashion retailers in Brazil - where slave labor is a major problem - scored poorly on an index assessing their social and environmental practices, with almost half failing to disclose any information, UK-based campaigners said on Thursday.
Brazilian retailers scored an average of 17 percent in Fashion Revolution’s first survey of the textile industry in Latin America’s biggest economy, with German clothing retailer C&A winning top place with 53 percent.
Eight out of the 20 brands scored zero because their websites and reports did not reveal any information and they did not respond to a questionnaire focused on five areas, including supply chain traceability, governance and policies.
“Information about supply chains is often hidden on websites, or hosted on external websites that are difficult to find, in annual reports of more than 300 pages or simply not available,” said Fashion Revolution Brazil’s Eloisa Artuso.
“How can we make better decisions about what we buy, when information is either totally absent or presenting in such varied and long winded ways?” the project manager asked.
A labor ministry spokeswoman declined to comment because she had not seen the survey but said the ministry has rescued more than 1,200 workers from slave-like conditions this year.
The index comes as businesses face growing consumer pressure to ensure their global supply chains are environmentally-friendly, slavery-free and pay their workers fair wages.
Brazil has the world’s fourth largest garment production industry, with 1.5 million direct employees, mostly women, Fashion Revolution said.
The textile industry is fragmented and informal, with thousands of immigrant subcontractors from Bolivia and Paraguay sewing clothes in sweatshops for well-known national retailers.
Sweatshops in Brazil producing clothes for the Spanish store Zara - which came third in the index - were raided in 2011 after a supplier was accused of slave labor.
Brazil officially recognized the use of slave labor in 1995 and started launching raids which have freed about 50,000 people from slave-like conditions, often in logging and sugarcane work.
“We are in favor of global transparency, not only in the textile industry but in all sectors,” said Fernando Pimentel, head of the Brazilian Textile and Apparel Industry Association.
“Transparency is crucial ... to avoid informal business prevailing over formal business.”
Fashion Revolution started the Global Fashion Transparency Index of 150 big brands in 2016. The average score in this year’s edition was 21 percent, with Sportswear giant Adidas and its subsidiary Reebok taking first place.
The index is funded by the C&A Foundation, which partners with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on its human trafficking coverage.