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Most fashion labels are failing on gender equality. Bangladeshi garment workers inside a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Shutterstock

Top fashion brands failing on gender equality, says new index. Adidas and Gap the best performers; G-Star, Urban Outfitters and Zhejiang Semir Garment the worst

  • The Gender Benchmark found two-thirds of top brands don’t publicly back women’s empowerment
  • They are accused of paying lip service to issues of equality, pay, violence and harassment

When it comes to fashion brands, Adidas and Gap are among the best at tackling gender inequality, according to a new index which shows that most retailers are failing to support women in their boardrooms and factories.

The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA)’s Gender Benchmark showed that nearly two-thirds of the top 35 apparel brands have not publicly backed gender equality and women’s empowerment, while only 14 firms have implemented gender-specific policies.

The index – which examined factors such as the gender pay gap, representation in leadership, and policies to stop violence and harassment – gave the companies an average score of 29 points out of a possible 100, which the WBA called “concerning”.

Adidas, Gap and VF Corp – known for brands from The North Face and Timberland to Vans – were the only three fashion industry giants to score more than 50 points on the WBA’s index.

Adidas, Gap and VF Corp, which owns The North Face, Timberland and Vans, scored the highest on the index. Photo: Reuters

“We see a marked difference between what companies say and do on vital issues such as pay, gender balance in leadership and violence and harassment,” said Pauliina Murphy, engagement director at the WBA, a global non-profit organisation. “This lip service has to stop,” she said.

The garment industry is estimated to employ more than 60 million workers globally – mostly women – and regularly comes under scrutiny over labour exploitation and sexual harassment.

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Activists have said that pressure from brands on suppliers to deliver clothes quickly and cheaply is fuelling exploitation – from a lack of bathroom breaks to verbal and sexual abuse – in a trend that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.


The WBA said its research – based on public information and confidential data from companies – revealed “significant gaps” between commitment and action on gender equality in fashion.

Less than a third of the 35 companies had provided violence and harassment training for their staff, while only three brands had taken measures to address gender pay gaps, the WBA found.

Dominique Muller, policy director at campaign group Labour Behind the Label, says brands repeatedly fail to address gender discrimination and violence in their supply chains. Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP

Dominique Muller, policy director at campaign group Labour Behind the Label, said the index’s findings were not surprising, as brands had repeatedly failed to address gender discrimination and violence in their supply chains.

“Progress has stalled and the pandemic has laid bare the weakness of voluntary and ineffective promises of the fashion brands,” Muller told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The lowest scoring companies on the index included Urban Outfitters, The Foschini Group (TFG) – owner of G-Star Raw – and Zhejiang Semir Garment, a Chinese clothing giant. The retailers were not immediately available to comment.