The Better Buying Institute, which publishes the BBPPI said apparel workers cannot afford to wait for apparel companies to improve as the overall industry score for garments and footwear has remained static at 66 points.

This rating has been in place for three consecutive cycles of the BBPPI, despite a growing focus on buying purchasing practices since the pandemic and a number of initiatives aimed at accelerating change.

Better Buying’s president and co-founder Dr Marsha Dickson commented: “It’s a tough time to be doing business at the moment, with high inflation, global unrest and inventory piled up due to uncertain demand. On top of that, brands and retailers are still dealing with the after-effects of Covid-19, and the ongoing adjustments that they have had to make in its wake, and we understand that. So kudos to our repeat subscribers for the hard work they are doing, and the improvements they have made.”

The Better Buying Institute explained it has seen improvements in payment and terms and in cost and cost negotiations amongst its repeat subscribers. This includes practices such as pricing to cover the full costs of production.

The BBPPI has also seen a reduction in buyers’ use of high pressure negotiation strategies, which it called “a nice surprise”. However, the Better Buying Institute warned the average category scores include a lot of variation, with some subscribers performing above the average and others below.

The news comes after last year’s BBPPI showed only a minor improvement in the quality of fashion brand/retailer buyer-supplier partnerships in global supply chains.

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Overall, the Better Buying Institute has warned payment terms have not improved since the pandemic. While one repeat BBPPI subscriber increased their cost and cost negotiation score by a solid 18 points, another subscriber’s score fell by 10 points.

Dickson noted: “Our spring ratings cycle, which this Index report relates to, increasingly reflects the efforts being made by our repeat subscribers.

“But these companies make up only a small proportion of the total industry and we simply do not know what’s going on in non-subscribing companies, because we don’t have the data. What we can say, though, is that if even those companies that are subscribed with us are finding it challenging to make improvements, then the picture across the wider industry is likely to be worse.”

The BBPPI saw the largest overall decline in the planning and forecasting category, which it said is “vital to supplier financial sustainability”.

In 2023 suppliers were asked a new question about the extent to which their brand and retail customers were offering them long-term, formal commitments for ongoing business.

“Suppliers were telling us how important these commitments were for their long-term sustainability, their ability to pay living wages, ensure good working conditions, reduce negative environmental impacts, and optimise production, so we wanted to know how common they were,“ Dickson explained.

“Unfortunately we found that far too few buyers are offering these commitments; 72.6% of supplier ratings showed nothing but transactional orders or at most, formal commitments of less than a year’s duration. For real impact, suppliers need to start seeing commitments of three, or ideally five years’ duration,” Dickson added.

Last year, the Better Buying Institute unveiled its first annual report, the “Better Buying Commercial Compliance Tracker,” as part of its participation in The Sustainable Terms of Trade Initiative.

Apparel sourcing expert David Uricoli previously told Just Style that efforts to improve purchasing practices and embed human rights into apparel supplier contracts are changing industry buying habits.