Australian fashion retail blasted for sweatshop support

Would you buy from a fashion brand knowing they impose slavery and unfair conditions on workers? Would you have any idea which brands could be named as doing so? Well, now you can have the extra thought in your head as you shop after The Australian Fashion Report 2015 was released, exposing the circumstances behind 219 brands’ manufacturing.

The report looks at our most popular brands, and how well they manage overseas supply chains and establish systems to prevent modern slavery and unfair conditions being imposed on workers.

Since the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, where over 1,100 workers lost their lives, there has been significant global pressure for changes in the industry. And change is underway, with substantial improvements being made in the safety of many factories and a rise in the minimum wage. The minimum wage has increased almost 75 per cent from $39 to $68 a month. Additionally, over 190 apparel brands have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a five-year independent, legally binding agreement between global brands, retailers and trade unions designed to build a safe and healthy Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment Industry. However Bangladesh still has a long way to go. The increase to minimum wage still falls far short of the $104 per month the living wage that unions are asking for. And while 1,800 of the 4,500 garment factories in the country are now covered by the Accord, this still leaves the majority uncovered and predisposes many workers to an unsafe working environment where injuries, harassment and the potential for child labour remain prevalent.

Most apparel companies have taken significant steps to monitor the working conditions in at least some portion of their cut-make-trim (CMT) factories, the final stage of apparel production. Since the 2013 Fashion Report, there has been an increase in companies taking action to know the suppliers deeper in their supply chain (those that provide inputs and raw materials like cotton), however the majority of these suppliers remain untraced, unmonitored and out of sight.

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So which companies are scoring well in the report and which ones aren’t?

A number of Australian brands have been named as providing workers with “good practice” in some of the observed areas, including Country Road, and their associated brands of Mimco, Trenery and Witchery, and their associated brands Sportsgirl, Sussan and Suzanne Grae. Both suppliers pay their manufacturing workers in China approximately 150 per cent above the legal minimum wage, which the report says is a good step towards paying a good living wage.

Cue Clothing and R.M. Williams are also reported to deserve recognition for sourcing their Ethical Clothing Australia accredited lines of apparel from facilities and homeworkers in Australia who receive a living wage. Inditex (owners of Zara) and H&M are also paying wages above the legal minimum in a number of their cut-make-trim facilities in Europe.

While these eight companies that have taken action to improve wages represent a welcome sign of progress for the industry, it remains a significant concern that 86 per cent of all companies in this report are still not actively seeking to ensure that the workers producing their product receive a living wage.

Brands that have been lambasted by the report for their wages include Billabong, Cotton On, Glassons, Jeanswest, Just Group, Kathmandu, Kmart, and many more.

More information can be found in the Australian Fashion Report here. Share your thoughts on this today.

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