The research, conducted by international aid and development organisation Baptist World Aid Australia, highlights what 219 major global and domestic fashion brands have been doing to ensure workers in their supply chains are being protected from exploitation.
Grading companies based on their policies, supply chain traceability, monitoring programs and workers rights, the research stemmed from a need to educate consumers to shop ethically. The 2015 Australian Fashion Report also assessed whether companies are paying a wage that meets their workers’ basic needs and found only 9 per cent of fashion brands are paying their workers a living wage.
One of the worst overall performers was iconic Australian fashion brand the Just Group, (who encompass Just Jeans, Dotti, Portmans and Peter Alexander to name a few). The Just Group received an overall D grade, with an F grade for worker rights. However, some Australian companies have made significant improvements and engaged deeply with the research process. Since 2013, Kmart and Cotton On have improved their traceability of suppliers throughout their supply chains and Country Road and the Sussan Group have improved worker wages.
“It’s really encouraging to see companies make high impact and lasting changes like publishing lists of direct suppliers and paying wages that actually meet workers’ basic needs,” said Gershon Nimbalker, Advocacy Manager at Baptist World Aid. “The 2013 factory collapse sparked the collective conscience of consumers and retailers to know more about the people producing our clothes and how they are treated."
“While an increased number of companies know the factories where their final manufacturing takes place, only nine per cent have traced down to the people picking their cotton,” explained Nimbalker. “If companies don’t know or don’t care who is producing their products, it’s much harder to know whether workers are being exploited or even enslaved.”
For me I find the whole ethical issue pretty tough. Of course I hate the idea of people working in impoverished conditions, not receiving minimum wage, and generally being enslaved, but does all of this cross my mind when I am looking at clothes in stores, I'm ashamed to say not really. However after reading the Ethical Fashion Guide I am pleased to see that a lot of my favourite high street stores did receive a good grade for slavery and labour rights, and I hope that as more awareness is made around this issue more stores will take action.
The 2015 Australian Fashion report is the third report in Baptist World Aid’s Behind the Barcode research and also features an accompanying Ethical Fashion Guide. If you are interested you can download both reports at www.behindthebarcode.org.au