What Does Transparency Mean?
According to Merriam Webster, transparency is “characterized by visibility or accessibility of information”. One business dictionary describes transparency as a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.”
There are many different facets of transparency and ways of defining it, but for our purposes, let’s just say that transparency is about seeing the faces and hearing the voices behind the products we buy.
How a Lack of Transparency Harms People
We’re often not getting the full picture when it comes to our products. When this information remains hidden there is room for corruption and exploitation to happen behind the scenes. Cheap, dangerous, toxic, harmful working practices and environmental destruction gets swept under the plush carpet as advertising portrays something far-removed from a product’s true origins. Garment production, for example, often takes place in poorer countries like Bangladesh where a textile worker’s wages start at just $32 a month, and working conditions go unregulated.
How A Lack Of Transparency Harms Customer Relations
Building trust is one of the best things a sustainable company can do to forge long-term relationships with customers. In the State Of Sustainable Business Survey only 19 percent of respondents believed that the public trusts businesses. When asked what can be done to change that, 61 percent suggested that transparency was a good building block.
Tools For Transparency
Mobile phones have had a big role to play in two of the most important aspects of transparency, timeliness and visibility. In other words, they spread the news straight from witnesses hands to the public, as the events happen.
Phones can also be used to poll and uncover the exploitation of workers. Marks & Spencer used a mobile poll to contact 64,230 workers across manufacturing locations in China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the UK. The advantage of this method is that it is anonymous enough to reveal the truth. In this poll it played a big part in unveiling issues like harassment and bullying.
Who Made My Clothes?
Following the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, Fashion Revolution was compelled into action with a call for greater transparency from the fashion industry.
Fash Rev has now compiled a Fashion Transparency Index for 2017 which takes a selection of popular brands across different sectors including footwear, denim etc. The results? The fashion industry has a long way to go. Brands achieved an average score of 49 out of 250 in the index, where issues like policies, governance, traceability and living wages were considered. Coming out on top of the index were Adidas and Reebok with a score of 121.5, with Marks & Spencer and H&M following just behind.
Fash Rev aren’t only doing the nitty-gritty statistical work though, they are running a successful campaign called #whomademyclothes, which invites people to post images of their labels and ask the companies behind them to offer some information. One follower was even moved to write a letter to Kohl’s wanting to know more. True to their message, the campaign also includes pictures that read ‘we made your clothes’ from the makers too. The campaign is great for transparency because it uses one of the most revealing platforms of social media to share images and question companies on public platforms – a great reminder that consumers have a right to demand transparency from companies too.
Transparency is just the first step but it’s the first step towards change, which means better business practice, higher consumer trust and respect for human and worker rights.