Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands scored 17 out of 100 points on a Gender Benchmark 2021 index released Tuesday, despite the high-profile underwear retailer abandoning its “Angels” show and its new list of diverse models.
Research from the World Benchmarking Alliance assessed how 35 of the world’s largest apparel companies addressed the United Nations’ fifth Sustainable Development Goal: increasing gender equality and empowering women.
L Brands ranked 27 out of 35, with a score of 17, about 12 points below the industry average.
With scores of 53.9 / 100, Gap, which also owns Banana Republic, Athleta and Old Navy, and VF Corporation – known for The North Face, Vans shoes and Timberland – top the list. Adidas was next with a score of 50.1 and Levi Strauss & Co and Target rounded out the top five with 47.3.
While L Brands performed relatively well in terms of compensation and benefits and gender representation in the supply chain, it lagged behind its peers in all areas of measurement.
L Brands, and Victoria’s Secret in particular, have been rocked by revelations of their links to pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
He managed the fortune of L Brands founder Les Wexner, and a series of women have claimed he posed as a Victoria’s Secret scout in order to abuse them.
Wexner resigned in May 2020, but L Brands is now being sued by activist shareholders over charges that include a claim that the company founder and his wife knew Epstein was using their New Estate guesthouse. Albany, Ohio, for abusing underage girls.
The lawsuit claimed Wexner’s ties to Epstein had damaged the company’s reputation.
The study released Tuesday does not focus on Epstein, but on current company practices.
It says that while L Brands speaks out against discrimination and harassment in the workplace – and even has a policy on violence and harassment – it does not require suppliers to have similar policies in place to cover their costs. workers and is not actively monitoring the problem, according to the report.
This reflects a trend within the apparel industry, according to the World Benchmarking Alliance.
“Clothing is not the watchword when it comes to gender equality,” said Pauliina Murphy, group engagement director. “We see a marked difference between what companies say and do on vital issues such as compensation, gender balance in leadership and violence and harassment.”
The report comes shortly after Victoria’s Secret announced it was undertaking a complete rebranding, swapping its iconic “Angels” track for its new VS Collective, which features US football captain Megan Rapinoe, the world champion of Chinese ski Eileen Gu, Swiss-American plus-size model Paloma Elsesser and Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
The rebranding was announced alongside the launch of a new charity group called The VS Global Fund for Women’s Cancers. Through this partnership, Victoria’s Secret announces that it will donate at least $ 5 million per year to fight racial and gender inequalities and fund cancer research.
L Brands also announced new leadership for Victoria’s Secret. Of the seven new directors, six are women.
Martin Waters, who took over as director of Victoria’s Secret in February, called the rebranding an effort to make the lingerie company “the world’s leading advocate for women.”
The Victoria’s Secret rebranding comes amid a trend for clothing companies to pivot to attract young consumers who increasingly value corporate ethics.
According to a Porter Novelli / Cone study, 90% of Gen Z consumers believe companies should take action to help the world solve social and environmental issues, while 75% say they research a company’s positions before to buy it.
Gen Z’s biggest concerns about the fashion industry are sustainability and the exploitation of the workforce, according to JUV Consulting, a “board founded by Gen-Z and led by Gen-Z.”
Yet Victoria’s Secret rebranding has made some wonder if her new gender-conscious stance is a sign of a real shift in values within the company, which has long been known for its scantily clad models – or if it is just geared towards marketing.
He also raised questions about his broader ethical commitments. Durability has long been an issue in the fast-paced fashion industry, and Victoria’s Secret is no exception.
The business suffered a backlash last year when hundreds of bras were found tossed outside a recently closed store in Colorado.
Although the brand has not been accused of sustainability issues of the same magnitude since, L Brands scored 0.5 out of 100 on the Sustainable Cotton Ranking 2020 and received a “C” rating on the CDP Climate Change Program since 2016.
At the same time, Victoria’s Secret has made strides in sustainability.
According to its website, the company has “recycled” millions of plastic bottles and donated enough money to plant 100,000 trees. He also says he is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.
L Brands spokesperson Tammy Roberts Myers told Zenger News the company has also set up an internal working group that meets almost weekly to “create an intentional journey for the brand” focused on improvement. tangible impact of its sustainable development efforts.
However, Tracy Meserve, the librarian at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, said she was generally skeptical of the “sustainability initiatives” announced by major clothing brands.
While some have substance, she said most tend to be just marketing tactics. The difference is usually revealed by whether a brand has specific goals, specific metrics, and set timelines to achieve them, so customers can hold them accountable, according to Meserve.
“Unless you see that kind of detail with very specific goals and metrics, I think it’s honestly greenwashing,” Meserve said.
Another issue that Victoria’s Secret has come under criticism recently is labor exploitation.
A 2020 study of Australian Institute for Strategic Policy revealed that a number of global brands, including Victoria’s Secret, have directly or indirectly benefited from the forced labor of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region since 2017.
L Brands spokesperson told Zenger News he had never operated in the area.
The company disputed the accuracy of the 2020 study and sent a response to the United Nations denying any trade relationship with the region.
Nevertheless, 20 percent of the world’s cotton comes from the Xinjiang region of China, making the cleanliness of the supply chain difficult to assess. According to The Coalition to End Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region, almost the entire clothing and footwear industry is tainted by forced labor.
Jewher Ilham and Penelope Kyritsis of the Worker Rights Consortium said the only way companies can ensure they are not complicit is by proactively making a set of commitments to completely cut their supply chains. of the region.
Ending forced Uyghur labor has also created a Call to action for companies to do just that, and although seven brands have signed the appeal, L Brands has yet to sign.
Ilham also noted that when the Chinese government retaliated against several US companies for posting public statements against Uyghur forced labor on their websites this spring, many removed the statements in response, including Victoria’s Secret.
“We see the withdrawal of a statement, when you have already issued it, as a sign that you may be prioritizing your business interests in China over the lives and human rights of Uyghurs,” said Kyritsis.
The rebranding of Victoria’s Secret is just the latest example of a company pivoting its brand towards social change. But questions remain as to whether changes in marketing will lead to adjustments in supply chain practices.
Kyritsis said companies like Victoria’s Secret – and the governments that regulate them – need to take a more systematic approach to demanding better working conditions.
“This is largely the result of supply chain dynamics that prioritize rapid production, at the lowest possible cost,” she said. “It is certainly not inevitable that workers will be exploited and abused at the base of supply chains.”
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger news.