There are costs for the goods we consume beyond what we pay at checkout.

The hidden costs not reflected in the price tag on clothing items we purchase – including working conditions, wages, treatment of workers and environmental impacts – are explored in the fifth edition of Baptist World Aid Australia’s (BWAA) annual ethical fashion report, “The Truth Behind the Barcode,” published on April 18.

The report assessed the practices of 114 companies representing 407 fashion brands, grading them based on four criteria: policies, transparency / traceability, auditing / supplier relationships, and worker empowerment.

Eighteen fashion brands received an A rating, 26 a B rating, 34 a C rating, 25 a D rating and 11 an F rating.

Some of the companies receiving A or B ratings are Adidas (A-), Gap Inc. (B-), H&M (B+), Levi Strauss & Co. (B-), Lululemon Athletica (A-), New Balance (B), Nike (B-), Patagonia (A) and Puma (B).

A sampling of companies receiving C or D ratings are Abercrombie & Fitch (D), ASICS (C+), Billabong (C), Forever 21 (D), Fruit of the Loom (D+), Hugo Boss Group (C+), Lacoste (D+) and Ralph Lauren (D+).

While “77 percent of assessed companies actively engaged in the research process,” many of the companies receiving a D or F rating were not responsive to BWAA information requests.

“Without transparency, it is almost impossible for consumers to trust that these companies have sufficient systems to ensure that the rights of workers are being upheld,” the report explained. “The F Grade is not an assertion that these brands necessarily have poor labor rights management systems, but merely that their labor rights management systems are not sufficiently visible for assessment.”

The number of companies with full lists of direct suppliers increased eight points to 34 percent during the past year.

While only 7 percent of companies could trace the origins of all their raw materials, the number of companies actively working to track raw materials sources has increased from 17 percent in 2013 (the first year of the report) to 42 percent in 2018.

While the global fashion industry provides jobs for millions worldwide, it “can be a place of exploitation for millions,” BWAA explained. “For the majority of workers in the global fashion industry, wages are so low that they leave them and their families trapped in poverty.”

Instances of modern-day slavery (in the form of labor trafficking) and child labor are also prevalent, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, which accounts for “two thirds of forced labor victims” worldwide and “where the majority of the world’s garment production takes place.”

The 2018 guide is available here.

Editor’s note: A news brief on the 2016 guide is available here, and a brief on the 2017 guide is available here.

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