27 Jan

How Ethical Is Topshop?

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?

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, including 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.

Environmental Impact

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.

Topshop is a member of the Better Cotton Initiative, which aims to help farmers produce cotton in a more sustainable way. However, it is unclear how much of the cotton Topshop uses is Better Cotton. Another eco-conscious initiative is 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.

But these collections’ effectiveness in reducing the impact of the fast fashion giant on the planet is questionable, 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.

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’.

Labour Conditions

We gave Topshop a labour rating of ‘Not Good Enough’ based on the 2018 Ethical Fashion Report and our own research. Very few of its facilities have worker empowerment initiatives such as collective bargaining or rights to make a complaint.

Topshop traces and monitor all of its suppliers at the final manufacturing stage, but it can only trace between 1-25% of suppliers at the raw materials and inputs stages. However, the brand has put measures in place to trace its suppliers and countries of origin at all levels of the supply chain, which is a promising move. Topshop publicly lists some of its suppliers at the final production stage, and only audits some of its traced facilities.

Concerningly, issues relating to slave labour and child labour are yet to be adequately addressed by Topshop. While the brand also has a Code of Conduct that covers all of the ILO principles, it has made little to no progress towards ensuring payment of a living wage.

Topshop needs to improve its transparency surrounding its labour practices. The brand could start by releasing information about how it monitors the factories its products are sourced from, tracing its suppliers at all stages, making a public list of those suppliers and the countries of origin of its products, and finally, paying all of its workers a living wage.

Animal Welfare

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. 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!

Overall Rating: It’s a Start

We’ve given Topshop a rating of ‘It’s a Start’ 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 labor abuse over the years, Topshop has shown time and time again that it’s willing to put profit over people. The brand needs to improve its transparency and trace its suppliers across all levels of the supply chain in order to ensure that workers are being treated fairly. Implementing a living wage wouldn’t be a bad idea either!

See the rating.

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’ on the Good On You app?

Good Swaps

Ethical Alternatives to Topshop

GRAMMAR

Rated: Great

The Conjunction Shirt – Ships internationally

On the face of it, this brand new label only sells one thing – white shirts.  But look at the detail and you see a full range of clever tailoring, creative cuts and details that mean there’s a shape and style to suit everyone. All GRAMMAR’s shirts are made from ethically sourced 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton and produced in small batches in New York city.

See the rating.

Shop GRAMMAR NYC.

Shop GRAMMAR NYC @ Made Trade.

MUD Jeans

Rated: Great

Skinny Hazen in Stone Black – Ships internationally

Dutch denim brand MUD Jeans is all about sustainability. Not only does it offer a repair service, but it also provides 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.

See the rating.

Shop MUD Jeans.

Also find MUD Jeans @ Ecoture.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good

Norah Pants in Shiny Black – Ships internationally

This LA-based brand makes truly affordable ethical fashion that looks great – a rare find indeed.  By limiting each garment to short runs, Whimsy + Row utilise deadstock fabric, reduce packaging waste and take care of precious water resources.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

Christy Dawn

Rated: Great

Willa Dress in Peony Bloom – Ships internationally

Christy Dawn is a minimalist showroom for vintage-inspired women’s clothing and footwear, locally made with surplus fabric. The brand rates ‘Great’, making it a fabulous boho option for your wardrobe.

See the rating.

Shop Christy Dawn.

Editor's note

feature image via Topshop, all other images via brands mentioned. This article was first published in 2018 and updated in January 2020. To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offers code or affiliate links.

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