The fashion industry has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years due to its lack of transparency, particularly with the rise of "fast fashion" – fashionable, low-cost clothing that is quickly discarded. This practice has resulted in significant environmental and social impacts. Extensive media coverage of these negative consequences has sparked public discourse, fuelled by consumer activism calling for boycotts on social media platforms.
The full extent of this conversation – and which brands bear the majority of the responsibility – has been challenging to quantify. Until now.
DataEQ, in partnership with Relativ Impact, recently released the inaugural UK Fashion ESG Index at an event at the Royal Society of Arts, hosted by Ethical Good. The aim of the report was to bring greater transparency to the industry and to offer a new, consumer-driven perspective on sustainability discussions.
The index tracked over 1.8 million posts from 1st January 2020 to 31st December 2022, evaluating consumer conversations on social media regarding the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices of nine leading UK-based fashion retailers.
Analysis revealed that luxury brand Burberry emerged as the leader with the highest Net Sentiment  score of +74.6%, reflecting consumers' strong appreciation for its ESG practices. This score starkly contrasts with the rest of the brands, where the average Net Sentiment was -63.8%. Notably, Primark and Boohoo shared the bottom position on the list, both scoring -87% in Net Sentiment.
Conversation around ESG concerns within the fashion industry is on the rise since COVID-19.
Approximately 16.7% of all social media conversations related to the UK fashion industry centred around ESG themes. Fast fashion brands like Primark (33.2%) and H&M (21.7%) had the highest share of this conversation.
The majority of conversations on ESG topics (76.9%) revolved around social considerations, with consumer health and safety being the most prominent issue. Social concerns for brands, customers, and employees were shaped by COVID-19 restrictions.
Governance-related discussions (64.5%) accused brands of prioritising profits over people. Posts highlighted the lack of ESG-related policies, transparency, and accountability within the fast fashion industry.
Although representing the smallest proportion of ESG conversation (12.2%), environmental considerations such as animal cruelty were shown to cause significant reputation damage to brands.
Fashion's sustainable future: Uncovering the value of social data for ESG reporting
Melanie Malherbe, Managing Director of DataEQ, emphasises the value of social media as a tool to measure ESG performance. Malherbe believes that "the real value of social media as a data source is that it provides an honest unfiltered view of consumer opinion in real-time, showing what ESG issues matter most to consumers."
Colin Habberton, CEO of Relativ Impact, echoes this sentiment from a business perspective, stating, "Social media has become an indispensable source of stakeholder data for brands to inform risk assessments, gain an understanding of consumer interests, and monitor stakeholder responses to their ESG claims and campaigns. It's a goldmine of insights for investors too, supporting their decision-making and signals regarding brand reputation, consumer sentiment, and behaviour trends regarding ESG risks, without solely relying on the brands' self-reported information."
Malherbe continues, "Social platforms have provided a collective voice to millions of consumers who are concerned about the industry's impact on the planet and society. It's clear that social media will continue to play a crucial role in the journey towards more sustainable and ethical fashion practices. As this conversation evolves, it will be interesting to see how brands respond and adapt to these consumer expectations."
The UK Fashion ESG Index serves as a wake-up call for the fashion industry, urging brands to reevaluate their ESG practices and embrace sustainability as a core principle. It highlights the power of consumer sentiment and the growing demand for transparency. With the fashion industry under scrutiny, it is imperative for brands to prioritise ESG considerations and take meaningful steps towards a more sustainable future. Only by aligning their practices with the values and expectations of consumers can fashion brands thrive in an era of heightened social and environmental consciousness.
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