Australian fashion retail blasted for sweatshop support 63



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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.

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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Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. That is really sad, but it’s a dilemma. If people stop buying, does that mean that these workers have no work or income at all? Is there anything can be done to stop it happening without them losing jobs?????

    1 REPLY
    • It is the same sort of dilemma I feel with consumerism and the relentless need of some to have the newest and best of everything, throwing away perfectly good items along the way. The waste of valuable resources appals me. If we stop though economies collapse and unemployment worldwide increases.

  2. I work in retail and I think most customers look at the price tag without thinking about the ethical side.

    1 REPLY
  3. Some of these workers have stated that if they were not employed to do this — that they would be on the street living and also working as prostitutes — dosnt make this fair at all — but can see what they mean xx but to work in dangerous buildings and squashed together with hardly a break — these things should be changed — also the long hours they work xx

  4. It is rife really, sweat shops everywhere and we don’t know that the item we are buying is in face made in a sweat shop.

  5. SBS had several excellent British shows around the conditions of workers in the third world. They transplanted some UK young people to work as the locals work in these countries. It was a real eye opener. I must admit I am guilty of giving little thought to any thing other than fit, style and price when I buy clothes.

  6. The price of clothing is Australia is very high compared to other countries like the US, where I am from. When you are on a budget, you can’t be too choosy as to which retailer and/or brand you purchase from. As Fran, said, it is a dilemma. In theory, everyone wants fair conditions for these people but no one wants to pay more for clothing that is often not the best quality either. I think the governments in these countries need to do more to protect their citizens but they are too interested in lining their own pockets at others’ expense.

  7. I dtopped buying from Susan years ago as I lived next door to people in Sydney who were working in sweatshop conditions 17 hours a day. Kids and all.

  8. If it is real slavery, then we should boycott. But if it’s just people being paid low wages, (as compared to Australia), then we should find out more. Low wages to us, might be the difference between eating or not, to those in poor countries. The working conditions are more likely to cause problems, like long hours, few breaks, etc.

  9. Perhaps if people didn’t think they needed to buy a new outfit everytime they go out then these sweat shops wouldn’t be needed. I bought some new clothes last Christmas as I was given vouchers to spend. It had been at least 12 months prior to that when I last bought something new.
    It is we, the consumer, who force these operators to exist.

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