How Ethical is Cotton On?

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Australian brand Cotton On are known and loved around the world for their fun and affordable clothing and accessories. But just how ethical are they when it comes to their environmental impact, the treatment of their workers, and animal welfare?

The Cotton On Group, which includes brands such as Rubi Shoes, Factorie, and Supré, was named the top performing retailer of 2017 in Australia. According to the Cotton On Manifesto, the company is “focused on building an ethical, sustainable and profitable business and ensuring we have a positive impact on our people, the community, the planet and all those we connect with.” But does this translate into real-world action? Let’s take a look!

Environmental Impact: Not Good Enough

Male model wearing Cotton On clothing and hatCotton On don’t publish sufficient relevant information about their environmental policies to achieve a higher rating. And we have a sneaking suspicion why!

As a fast fashion brand, Cotton On produces huge quantities of cheaply made garments, most of which are made from unsustainable materials including conventional cotton, viscose, and polyester. Manufacturing these materials consumes vast amounts of energy and water, not to mention the use of hazardous chemicals. Not only do these chemicals have a detrimental effect on workers and the surrounding air, soil waterways and communities, but they have also been found to affect those who end up wearing the clothes.

As a shopper, you have the right to know how a brand’s production practices impact the environment. We strongly recommend Cotton On get their act together and publically provide information about their environmental policies.

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Labour Conditions: Good

Cotton On_FB 1Overall, Cotton On are doing quite well when it comes to improving labour conditions across their supply chain. Their labour rating is based on the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report, which looks at criteria including payment of a living wage, transparency, and worker empowerment.

Cotton On are a signatory to the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord and received the top score for their Supplier Code of Conduct. They trace all suppliers at the final manufacturing stage and inputs production stage and are in the process of tracing at the raw materials stage. They publicly list most of their suppliers and also audit all of their traced facilities over a two-year period across their entire supply chain.

While Cotton On are taking steps toward implementing a living wage, they don’t currently ensure payment of a living wage to all workers across their supply chain. They also have few worker empowerment initiatives in place. So, while there is a lot to be proud of here, more action in this area could see Cotton On achieve the top score.

Animal Welfare: It’s a Start

Cotton On do not use fur, angora, wool, down or exotic animal skin or hair in their products, which is great! However, they do use leather without specifying sources. This is problematic as the welfare of leather workers and animals are unknown and therefore cannot be guaranteed.

The Verdict: ‘Not Good Enough’ GoY-Ratings_2

Female model riding skateboard wearing Cotton On clothingCotton On is rated ‘Not Good Enough’ based on information from the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report and our own research. Despite their declarations of sustainability and ethical practice, Cotton On still has a long way to go before they can truly back up their claims. While it’s fantastic that the brand is taking steps to improve their labour conditions, it’s clear that they are currently unwilling to face up to the massive impacts their fast fashion model is having on the environment.

Though those cheap price tags can be very tempting, it’s important to remember that there’s a reason why they’re so cheap in the first place! Investing in a few, well-made pieces that will last a lifetime – or better yet, buying secondhand – are much better alternatives for the environment and your bank account.

Here are a few of our favourite brands that are implementing ethical and sustainable practices when it comes making beautiful, timeless pieces.

Dorsu GoY-Ratings_5

Slip Dress and White Rolled Sleeve Crew by DorsuSlip Dress and White Rolled Sleeve Crew | Ships internationally

We love that Dorsu makes staple items for the perfect capsule wardrobe AND pay their workers a living wage! This includes benefits such as overtime, bonuses, workplace insurance, paid sick leave and paid holiday leave. Their material of choice is remnant cotton jersey sourced from fabric suppliers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Know The Origin GoY-Ratings_5

Striped Crop Tee by Know The OriginStriped Crop Tee | Ships internationally

Know The Origin have truly embraced the credo that transparency is the new black! They make on-point fair trade and organic clothing for both men and women. Know The Origin uses OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified dyes and publically share their water conservation policies and targets.

MUD Jeans GoY-Ratings_5

Organic Jeans by MUD Jeans Cropped Mimi in Sun Stone and Boyfriend Basin in Stone Black | Ships internationally

Dutch denim brand MUD Jeans are all about sustainability. Not only do they offer a repair service, but they also provide a rental service where you can lease a pair of jeans for up to a year! MUD Jeans uses a combination of GOTS and Better Cotton Initiative certified organic cotton.

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Editor’s Note: Good On You was not compensated for mentioning the brands in this article. Brand ratings are correct at the time of publication.

Feature image: Cotton On. Additional images via @CottonOn, Dorsu, MUD Jeans and KTO.

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