1 June 2016
The 2016 Australian Fashion Report has recently been published which rates 87 different clothing companies based on policies, knowledge of and relationships with suppliers and respect for worker’s rights. The report suggests that while some progress is being made, much remains to be done to address the working rights of those who make our clothes.
One of the major problems is that very often companies know little about the source of materials for their clothes. The study split the production process into three stages:
• Producing the raw materials e.g. cotton farmers (5%)
• Producing the inputs e.g. weaving cotton (16%)
• Final stage of cut, make and trim (69%)
(the numbers show the percentage of companies who can trace their supply lines through each stage)
As a result workers are left vulnerable to forced labour and exploitation and also means that companies can be unwittingly paying for child labour (there are today 168 million child labourers and 14.2 million people in forced labour). It also means that tragedies like the Rana Plaza factory collapse when 1,136 workers were killed in Bangladesh are allowed to happen.
The report also includes several case studies, which demonstrate how little it would take to improve the conditions of garment workers with a very small increase in retail price. In every section there are examples of good practice and inventive ways to improve conditions. These include Boden who gave their workers the opportunity to submit suggestions anonymously using mobile phones and the Cotton On Group which is acting to produce ethical cotton in Kenya.
In many cases the fashion industry has the potential to make a real contribution to helping local communities develop. There are several positive business practices described in the report, for example Pacific Brands in one year achieved a 7% decrease in working hours with a 20% increase in monthly income followed in the next year by a further 15% reduction and a 15% increase in wage levels. However many companies could do more. Two thirds of the companies studied have taken no action on paying a living wage. Failure to implement changes leads to excessive overtime, a cycle of poverty and ultimately a suppression of human rights.
The full report can be found here.