With over 500 stores across the globe, UK fast fashion giant Topshop doesn’t look like it intends to slow down anytime soon. But how does the brand treat people, the planet, and animals? How ethical is Topshop?
Over the past decade, Topshop has enjoyed global success and collaborations with a number of artists and celebrities. But its owner the Arcadia Group has been no stranger to controversy, having made headlines over the past decade due to allegations of labour abuses, including unfair wages paid to garment workers and poor working conditions. Topshop itself has also faced allegations, like when it was claimed Topshop x Beyonce’s Ivy Park collection’s mostly female garment workers were toiling under unfair conditions despite the range supposedly promoting female empowerment.
So after running a gauntlet of bad headlines and controversy, has Topshop since picked up its ethical game? Read on to find out.
Topshop has made some effort to improve its impact on the planet, but it still has a long way to go before it can become truly sustainable.
Despite the release of its CONSIDERED collection, as well as a vegan shoe collection in 2019 in an attempt to lower its environmental impact by using eco-friendly and recycled materials, the impact of the fast fashion giant on the planet is considerable, as it still relies on the mass production of brand new clothing.
What’s more, there is no evidence that it has taken any meaningful action to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemicals, or that it implements water reduction initiatives. There is also no evidence it has set a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.
But even if Topshop does incorporate more sustainable materials, as one of the world’s biggest fast fashion chains, Topshop’s business model is inherently unsustainable. By emphasising fleeting trends over timeless designs and producing huge amounts of poorly-made clothes, it’s hard to see how Topshop can become a truly ethical brand without ditching a fast fashion model. For all these reasons, its environmental impact is ‘Not Good Enough’.
We gave Topshop a labour rating of ‘Not Good Enough’. It received a score of 31-40% in the Fashion Transparency Index.
Some of Topshop’s supply chain is certified by Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit – SMETA Best Practice Guidance including all of the final stage of production, which is a promising move. The brand likely publishes information about its supplier policies, audits, and remediation processes, as well as a list of suppliers in the final stage of production (but not the second stage). Topshop may also be publishing limited information about forced labour, gender equality, or freedom of association.
Concerningly, we found no evidence Topshop ensure the payment of a living wage in its supply chain, and it does not disclose any policies or safeguards to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19.
Topshop needs to improve its transparency surrounding its labour practices, and make sure its workers are paid a living wage and protected amid COVID-19 disruption.
Topshop received a score of ‘It’s a Start’ for animal welfare. Although Topshop has banned the use of angora, down, exotic animal skin and fur in its products, it still uses leather, mohair, and wool in its products without providing any information about where they are sourced from. It has a general statement about minimising animal suffering but not a formal animal welfare policy. The welfare of both animals and workers cannot be guaranteed when the source of these materials is unknown. Topshop could improve its score in this area by being more transparent about where it gets its leather and wool from, or even better, by not using animal products in its clothes at all!
We’ve given Topshop a rating of ‘Not Good Enough’ based on information from our own research.
Topshop needs to do much more to improve its practices in all areas. While Topshop appears to be putting some measures in place to shrink its carbon footprint, none of them apply to the resource-intensive garment manufacturing process, which is the most important thing that the brand needs to address if it hopes to become more sustainable.
And in facing a number of allegations of labour abuse over the years, Topshop has shown time and time again that it’s willing to put profit over people. The brand needs to ensure that workers are being paid a living wage!
So next time you need to fill up a gap in your wardrobe, why not give Topshop a miss and choose one of these ethical brands rated ‘Good’ or ‘Great’?
Ethical Alternatives to Topshop