How Stiftung Warentest promotes fast fashion …

… and calls it “truth”.

The German consumer magazine “Stiftung Warentest” (SW) is an opinion maker for many German consumers – apparently it influences the majority of German consumers in their purchasing decisions. In its current issue it tested the CSR commitment of popular jeans companies and titled pretty self-confident “The truth about jeans”.

The test evaluated the following criteria and weighed the factors: production (social) (35%), production (environment) (35%), brand (general policy) (10%), brand (CSR-info) (10%), transparency (10%). A company could get 0=no answer, and 1=poor attempts at CSR, …  5=very strongly committed. The results show that:

  • No company got the best marks 4 and 5
  • Mark 3 (committed): H&M and Zara
  • Mark 2 (attemts at CSR): G-Star, J&J, Kik, Levi’s, Nudie
  • Mark 1 (did not answer the questions): 7 for all mankind, Diesel, Hugo Boss, Kuyichi, Lee, Wrangler, Salsa, Jeans Fritz

Here you see what was tested (if this zoom from the article breaches any copyrighs, please tell me). I have some remarks:

  • I think that the fact that no company got a better mark than 3 does indeed reflect the current situation that working standards in most supply chains are still very poor. It is also good that critical issues like sandblasting etc. are mentioned critically in the report. But why did they not test a company that would very likely have resulted in a 5 (maybe Hess Natur)?
  • Why is Stiftung Warentest (SW) not transparent regarding the detailed criteria they used. The magazin is surely aware that the final mark will very much differ, depending on what criteria you use and how you measure it (the SW board is full of PhDs and Professors). Or did I miss this out in the 7-pages PDF? A magazine claiming to present “the truth” about Jeans should know better (I wonder, whether a company could sue SW for telling wrong facts). In order to better assess the test, I would like to know: What information did SW use from the companies’ reports and what from verification bodies? What information did they collect in personal interviews and who conducted these interviews (experts?!) in what way?
  • Why did SW not evaluate, a companies’ membership in an independent verification of the companies’ commitment (like FWF, FLA or even ETI membership)? Or did it? But why then, as Kristen Brodde asks, is Nudie only “making attempts” at CSR, even though it commits to the strong FWF standards and certifies its jeans according to GOTS? Is this, because the jeans are produced in Italy, where FWF need not commit so strongly? But then Nudie produces its work plan and so on. Maybe something is wrong with the test criteria?!
  • Maybe this: Why did they interview workers in the factories – to then be surprised “they were all happy with their working conditions although they did not earn enough for their living”. Pardon me, but it is well known that workers are afraid to tell the truth inside a factory – so why do you use such methods?!
  • It is truly sad that brands like Kuyichi, Lee, Wrangler, Hugo Boss and Diesel did not participate in the test at all; knowing about the relevance of Stiftung Warentest, I don’t understand their company policies (To me, it only makes sense not to answer, if you fear your result is not much better, if you answer). It particularly seems strange that the “eco-company” Kuyichi did not react, but apparently Kuyichi wants to explain itself at the Berlin Fashion Summit.
  • We all knew that companies that sell overpriced jeans need not be better in CSR than companies that sell cheap jeans. But Kuyichi’s non-reaction made me personally angry, as I once paid 220$ for a Kuyichi jeans, thinking they were committed – and now they don’t answer … My personal experience with Kuyichi is that the tracking code in my jeans did not work, and once I bought a shirt to later read in the tag that this “sample” was “not for sale”… Warentest recently called Made-By’s tracking system a way of deceiving consumers.
  • Finally, I do not think that the signal that SW is giving (keep on buying cheap fast fashion and keep your fingers from organic cotton jeans) is one that should be the guiding consumers’ purchasing decisions. In terms of global sustainability, Stiftung Warentest should recognize the bigger picture and report about this. Maybe reading Lucy Siegle’s “To die for” and being a little more critical about “cheap” products would have helped.

Also read Kirsten Brodde’s comment.

And also check the Austrian consumer magazine KONSUMENT 7/2011, which did a similar test, where the same brands did not participate.