Guilt-free fashion

Guilt-free fashion

Karen Walker has scored a B+ in the 2017 Ethical Fashion Guide Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s an improvement on the brand’s C score in 2016. Karen Walker is the only non-Fairtrade brand to ask to be included in the report.

Words Carolyn Enting

Why did Karen Walker ask to be audited for The Baptist Report?

We’re committed to having an ethical supply chain that allows us full transparency of all our suppliers and a clear conscience with regard to the people we engage with at all levels. For almost a decade we’ve had in place a stringent code of compliance and controls and in 2015 we asked Baptist World Aid to work with us to assist us in identifying additional areas that we could work on to make these standards even higher. Our commitment to our social responsibility provides the foundation for all our business. Our core objectives in this respect are: to operate in a responsible and ethical manner in every sense and across all dimensions of our business and to commit to the sustainability of creating unique products that hold their intrinsic value.

What did you find during last year’s audit that you could improve on?

Our policies were rock-solid in 2016 so we have not made any changes to them. However, the information about them wasn’t reaching every person engaged in our manufacturing process... Now, everyone who works on our product is aware of our policies and our commitment to them. They also have a number to call so they can contact us directly and confidentially. We’ve also gone even deeper in terms of auditing our supply chain so we now work right back to fabrics and trims, not just garment producers.

There are two areas we’ve chosen not to address this year, which will stop us from getting an A+. The first area is full auditing back to raw material providers, e.g., sourcing silk or cotton yarn that then gets woven into fabric. It’s unprecedented to have full auditing done by designers right back to this stage. Additionally, of our 10 fabric mills none of them have ever had a customer prior to us asking for full auditing of their factories. We’re fully through this process now. To take this one stage further back to full auditing of yarn providers is a huge step, one that very few brands do and certainly no one of our size is capable of doing. 

The second area we’ve chosen not to action is publicly sharing the names and addresses of all our makers and suppliers. Making this information public does not impact on why we do this report, which is entirely motivated by improving our stringent controls in terms of our supply chain. 

Why do you think the Baptist Report has a place as a watchdog?

From our brand’s perspective they’ve assisted us in testing the stringency of our systems.

Some companies, like Seed for example, declined to participate in 2016 and got a F.

I find the ‘F’ for not participating a little nonsensical, as not participating doesn’t automatically mean you have poor ethics. It would make more sense to me if companies declining to participate simply got a ‘chose not to participate’ mark.

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