Investor Transparency in the Fashion Industry – An Open Data Sprint

By | September 13, 2018

The topic of transparency has been pushed to the forefront of discussions about labor conditions and sustainability in the fashion industry. The need for greater transparency has been established in the aftermath of tragic events such as the Rana Plaza collapse, where companies have taken years to recognize their responsibility to compensate for the medical and financial losses of garment workers in their supply chain.

We normally think of transparency leading down the chain from fashion brand to distributor to factory worker and on to producers. But where do investors fit into this picture? The flow of goods and services in a supply chain is facilitated by the investments of those at the top. What if investors too could be involved in making the fashion industry safer, cleaner and more transparent.

The Data Sprint

When it comes to advocating for workers’ rights Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) are experts in how to leverage fashion brands to provide better labor conditions in their supply chains. This August, WikiRate and CCC joined together with  OpenCorporates, the largest open database of companies in the world, to hold an Open Data Sprint on Investor Relations in the Fashion Industry at London’s Newspeak House.

The aim of the event was twofold: we wanted to launch a scoping exercise collecting publicly available relationship data that connects some of the Top 100 Fashion Companies  to their major investors, as well as to learn about the responsible investment policies of these investment companies. For the purposes of the sprint, we focused on 8 of the companies in the Top100 that disclose their supplier list. One of the most encouraging findings from the sprint was the sheer level of interest in this topic. From activists to corporate sustainability professionals, researchers and NGO representatives, we collected a diverse group of participants to help us explore the world of investor transparency.

Here are a few things we learned…

  1. There is no rule book on how to disclose investor information. Some fashion brands disclose nothing at all, but most disclose some information about their top shareholders on their website.
  2. Of those brands who do disclose, most disclose between 5-20 of their top shareholders.
  3. Not surprisingly, some names kept popping up. Large investment companies such as BlackRock, The Vanguard Group and Baillie Gifford & Co appeared several times on top shareholder lists of the fashion brands we researched.
  4. Regional jurisdiction matters. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires investors to publicly disclose their investments, but this type of public disclosure requirement does not exist in most countries. These discrepancies make it difficult to compare across countries.
  5. The SEC filings are a great source of public information on investor relationships for top brands, but the online filings are difficult to navigate and aggregate manually. In addition, services which aggregate this data do not always put their datasets in the public domain.
  6. There is often a big difference between ownership of shares and voting rights. If we want to determine who has greatest leverage in decision-making, we need to focus on those who have the most voting power.
  7. Investment companies have been slow to disclose their own ESG data but the Principles for Responsible Investment Transparency Reports are a great place to start when it comes to learning more about the policies of investment companies.

Through the hard work of our participants, we collected 89 investor relationships to 8 of the top fashion brands in the world and researched 15 investment companies on their responsible investment policies. In addition to  collaboratively collecting data and discussing lessons learned from the research process, we also spent time discussing why investor data is important to our work in the first place. The answers ranged from leveraging relationship data in campaigns to advocating for urgent action on labor violations and worker compensation, to using the data to engage with investors about how they can shape the supply chain policies of the companies they invest in for the better.

What’s Next?

We were delighted by the levels of engagement and interest in the data sprint, but now that this scoping exercise is complete we need to push the data collection process forward. We are working with OpenCorporates to find ways to incorporate important relationship information their database into the WikiRate platform, and will use algorithms we’ve developed to scrape machine readable investor relationships discovered during the data sprint.

An example of how this data could be used is our widget prototype, created with Clean Clothes Campaign, which collects data from scraped supplier lists to allow workers to search for their factory and discover which brands they are producing clothes for. As part of our Transparent Supply Chains program, we are working to connect the dots up and down the supply chain, and eventually map investors to fashion brands to suppliers.

Our crowd research project to collect data on the responsible investment policies and actions of investment companies will remain active on the WikiRate platform. Do you want to help us with this project? You can sign up as a volunteer researcher and start contributing right away!

Finally, we want to say a big thank you to all the participants who attended the data sprint and to Edward Saperia and his team, our brilliant hosts at Newspeak House.

If you have questions about this project, get in touch at info@wikirate.org.

WRITTEN BY Aileen Robinson & Lucía Ixtacuy

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Theresa Heithaus

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