Adidas and Gap Inc are among the most successful fashion brands in addressing gender inequality, according to a new index that found most retailers are not supporting women in their boardrooms and factories.
The World Benchmarking Alliance’s (WBA) Gender Benchmark showed that nearly two-thirds of the 35 biggest clothing brands did not publicly support gender equality and women’s empowerment, while only 14 companies did implementing specific gender policies.
The index, which looked at factors such as the gender pay gap, management representation and policies to end violence and harassment, gave companies an average score of 29 points. out of 100 possible, which the WBA called “concerning.”
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Adidas, Gap and VF Corp, known for brands from The North Face and Timberland to Vans, were the only three giants in the fashion industry to score more than 50 points on the WBA index.
“We are seeing a marked difference between what companies say and do on vital issues such as compensation, gender balance in leadership and violence and harassment,” said Pauliina Murphy, director of engagement at the WBA, a global nonprofit organization.
“These empty words must stop,” she said in a statement.
The garment industry is estimated to employ more than 60 million workers globally, mostly women, and regularly come under scrutiny for workplace exploitation and sexual harassment.
Campaigners said pressure from brands on suppliers to deliver clothes quickly and cheaply is fueling exploitation, from lack of toilet breaks to verbal and sexual abuse, in a trend that has been exacerbated by the pandemic of coronavirus.
The WBA said its research, based on public information and confidential company data, revealed “significant gaps” between commitment and action for gender equality in fashion.
Less than a third of the 35 companies had provided training on violence and harassment to their staff, while only three brands had taken action to close the gender pay gap, the WBA found.
Dominique Muller, policy director of the campaign group Labor Behind the Label, said the index’s results were not surprising as brands failed to tackle gender discrimination and violence in their supply chains.
“Progress has stalled and the pandemic has exposed the weakness of voluntary and ineffective fashion brands‘ promises,” Muller told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via email.
The lowest-rated companies in the index included Urban Outfitters, The Foschini Group (TFG), owner of G-Star Raw, and Zhejiang Semir Garment, a Chinese clothing giant. Retailers were not immediately available for comment.