Lindex produced one million organic garments in 2008 and plans to do the same in 2009. We are not told what percentage of Lindex's total output this represents, but sustainable fashion is a theme in this Swedish fashion retailer's CR presentation. Turning over 540 million Euro, Finnish-owned Lindex employs 2,699 FTE's and operates 360 stores in the Nordic, Baltic and MidEast regions, with 130,00 people involved in its supply chain outsourced to 200 suppliers. This is Lindex's third CSR report, GRI C level self declared, a 33 page PDF.
Of all the issues material to corporate responsibility and sustainability in the fashion industry, Lindex has elected to give particular emphasis to a comprehensive drive to improve environmental impacts through the supply chain from selection or raw materials to store planning and fitments to influencing consumer behaviour. Indeed, by reducing air freight in Lindex operations, the Company has a whopping 23% reduction in total emissions in 2008.
Sustainable fashion is given some space in this report, but regrettably, it is mostly about what Lindex does not do. Lindex needs to come off the fence on this one. This section of the report reads like an apology "some colours and materials are simply quite difficult to produce sustainably", "finding suppliers who are certified for organic cotton is no easy task", "Lindex are taking tentative steps in the use of recycled material". In this entire section, aside from some use of organic cotton, there is not one concrete activity or piece of data which demonstrates that Lindex's rhetoric on sustainable fashion is actually given substance in their supply chain or design collections.
Notwithstanding, this report addresses a range of material issues in the fashion industry, for example ethical design for children, with a list of design symbols (military or drugs-related themes are avoided), and animal rights in yarn production (museling free wool). There is an excellent section on training, monitoring and auditing of outsourced suppliers, which are, after all, the backbone of Lindex's business and a good report on the active issues discovered in the course of the 372 audits performed in 2008 by Lindex's 7 internal auditors and other external auditors. Just falling short of best practice which reveals suppliers by name, this is good reporting and shows a responsible approach to manufacturing.
Lindex is a young women's business with 96.4% of the employees being female with an average age of 32, largely reflecting their target purchase population. (The top job, however, goes to a man, and there is no information on how the executive team is made up). The one page on workplace disclosures is entitled "An attractive employer". We can only assume this to be correct, as there is no evidence of employee engagement in the form of surveys or other dialogue or feedback and other workplace disclosures are declarative only, with no data.
A potentially good feature of this report is a two-page risk analysis – one page which explains the rationale for each sustainability risk and another gives a table of the risk, the country in which Lindex faces that risk, and the measures Lindex will take to address the risk. Whilst this is a super process, covering everything from child labour, supply chain management, use of chemicals, responsible working environment, long working hours and low salaries etc, the measures are generic and do not contain quantified targets. Given that this is a third report, I would have liked to see some reference to past risks and the way they have been addressed. I checked back to 2007 and the same risk section covers 3 pages, and much of the content is identical. For instance, in 2007 the "sexual harassment risk" was identified and so was a plan i.e. "Produce a plan of action to combat sexual harassment." In the 2008 report, the same risk appears, the actions to be taken are slightly different "Lindex auditors are aware of the issue and discuss appropriate measures with auditors and those responsible at the factories." Nowhere are we told what the current scale of this issue is (how many sexual harassment complaints? what actually was done? were there any dismissals relating to sexual harassment?). This section oozes good intention but lacks depth of planning, clear objectives and measures, monitoring and disclosure.
This report is written in clear language with none of the jargon that often spoils CR reporting. There is a modest tone which does not shy away from referring to challenging and unresolved CR issues in the business. However, the flow of the report is a little illogical and the contents page doesn’t really help you find you want quickly. The GRI index is even less helpful showing governance, for example, on pages 32-34 (the report ends on page 32 and there's not a hint of governance on that page!), "changes since the last report" are listed as shown on page 10, but none are mentioned, and page 7 is indicated as containing key topics raised by stakeholders but not one topic is listed. This poor use of the GRI index makes this self declared report appear rather unprofessional.
A commendable report for this middle-league fashion player which demonstrates embedded commitment to improving impacts and a good understanding of the broad scope of sustainability issues in their process. The report evidences progress and intention to drive further improvements. However, the report is very limited in its disclosures, and fails to provide context in terms of its own improvements over time as most data is presented for the reporting year only. The report is not externally reviewed, not assured, and not GRI-checked. There are no details of stakeholder dialogue content and no materiality prioritization. There are clearly some misrepresentations in the GRI Index, and the quantifiable performance data in this report is very lightweight. As stakeholders, we are left to make a personal assessment as to the extent to which a fair and balanced picture has been presented and whether judgement in presenting the AB Lindex story has been appropriately applied. This is something that should not be left to the discretion of the individual stakeholder, and as AB Lindex matures in its sustainability journey, I would recommend an additional investment in building credibility in future reports. My bottom line: if this report were one of AB Lindex's garments, I would say it needed a few more stitches.
1. Disclose details of executive team – who is running this business?
2. Adhere to the GRI guidelines with greater integrity and accuracy
3. Expand the level of disclosure against a clear set of performance indicators and track them year on year in a consistent way
4. Assure the report
5. Tighten up the risk analysis section and develop quantifiable targets.
elaine cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz/en , a leading CSR reporting and consulting firm in Israel, specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses. Elaine Cohen is an independent reviewer and has no relationship with the reporting company.