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NEW YORK – A number of leading US apparel brands are seriously lagging on social and environmental issues according to a new report by US non-profit, Green America. The NGO explored a variety of environmental and social challenges in the fashion industry and contacted 14 major American apparel companies to ask what they are doing to address these issues in their supply chains.

Target, VF Corp and Nike came on top in terms of environmental and labour practices, while several companies are identified as “clearly laggards.” These were Urban Outfitters, Carter’s, J.Crew and Forever 21 who were found to be lagging in several areas, a key one being that they all failed to disclose the chemicals they use in their manufacturing.

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Green America analysed each company based on six factors — not only if they are already doing a good job with these things, but also if they have laid out plans to address them. The factors were the each company’s use of sustainable and renewable resources, chemical management, factory transparency, factory safety, water management and waste and recycling.

Green America reached out to companies with detailed surveys, read corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports when available, and reviewed corporate websites.

Key findings included:

• Large commitments without concrete plans, metrics, or timelines: Companies often say that they have a policy addressing an environmental or labour issue without going into detail about what they are doing to measure their progress or achieve their goal.

• Transparency is improving but mostly still lacking

• There are a lot of token sustainability initiatives and brands: Companies are increasingly incorporating sustainability efforts into their policies, but often will use one policy that addresses an issue in some detail or produce a line of clothes made a little more sustainably to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability when in reality, they are not addressing most issues in their supply chains.

The report says: “Overall, we found that companies are starting to move in the right direction, but much more has to be done to fully address the scope of the environmental and social challenges in textile supply chains. Consumer outrage and horror at the Rana Plaza collapse spurred companies to start taking factory safety in Bangladesh more seriously. Consumer interest in reducing waste and consumption has led to increase in in-store recycling programs and the rise of the secondhand market. While the solutions are not always perfect, they are steps in the right direction. When consumers want something, the markets listen – and we must continue to demand more of companies.”

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