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Ethical Fashion Report Finds Worker Exploitation Still Rampant

18 April 2018 at 4:59 pm
Luke Michael
Only 5 per cent of fashion companies are paying all their workers a living wage, according to a new report examining worker exploitation in the fashion industry.

Luke Michael | 18 April 2018 at 4:59 pm


Ethical Fashion Report Finds Worker Exploitation Still Rampant
18 April 2018 at 4:59 pm

Only 5 per cent of fashion companies are paying all their workers a living wage, according to a new report examining worker exploitation in the fashion industry.

Baptist World Aid Australia released its fifth Ethical Fashion Report on Wednesday, assessing 114 apparel companies and 407 brands on their policies, traceability and transparency, monitoring and supplier relationships and worker empowerment practices.

It found while there had been significant improvements in supply chain transparency, there remained major issues concerning a living wage.

In 2013, only 16 per cent of companies published the names and addresses of all their manufacturing suppliers, but this has now reached 34 per cent.

However only 5 per cent of companies could demonstrate all their manufacturing workers were paid a living wage, and 70 per cent of the industry was yet to take significant action to improve worker wages.

Baptist World Aid Australia’s advocacy manager, Gershon Nimbalker, said: “Year on year, our report has shown that companies are not taking the challenge of paying a living wage seriously.

“Today’s consumers want assurance that the brands they buy from are doing their bit to protect workers from being exploited, and the global fashion industry has responded to this by improving its systems, forming new alliances, and becoming more transparent. That being said, there is still a great deal of improvement to be made.

“The global fashion industry can facilitate a road out of poverty for hundreds of thousands of people, or drive oppression and exploitation. Companies should continue to strengthen their labour rights systems and ensure that workers – from farm to factory – receive a living wage.”

This year for the first time, the report assessed companies on their gender policies and strategies to address the widespread gender-based discrimination.

It found all countries in the Asia-Pacific recorded a gender pay gap – most significantly in Pakistan (66.5 per cent), India (35.3 per cent) and Sri-Lanka (30.3 per cent).

“The last year has proven to be a transformational one for many women, with the #MeToo movement shining a light on entrenched workplace sexual harassment,” Nimbalker said.

“However, we can’t lose focus on the plight of lower-wage workers in industries where sexual harassment is also rampant.”

Carolyn Kitto, director at anti-slavery group Stop The Traffik, told Pro Bono News a living wage and increased transparency were the key issues that needed to be addressed in the industry.  

“When wages are driven down as much as they are, people are going to be being exploited. And you don’t end up with a level playing field between businesses that are trying to do the right thing with their supply chains and those using places where there’s labour exploitation,” Kitto said.

“We are also still concerned that while it’s been great to see increased transparency [with] the final cut, make and trim manufacturing stage… people are not yet tracing back to what we call the second tier, which is the spinning, weaving, dyeing fabric manufacturing stage.

“And then of course there’s even the step further back of where the product comes from. And if you don’t know where your stuff is coming from, you don’t know the conditions under which it is made.”

Australia is set to introduce a Modern Slavery Act, and Kitto said this was beneficial not only for businesses and their supply chain, but also for NGOs working to combat worker exploitation.

“The biggest thing that it will do is create a level playing field. So it will mean that businesses can’t be rewarded for doing the wrong thing in terms of how people are treated in their supply chain,” she said.

“For us working in the NGO sector, it will create much greater awareness in the community about these issues. [Because] I still get people that just look at me blankly when I talk about modern slavery, and how we’re connected to it through what we wear, what we eat and products that we buy.

“Australia’s manufacturing has gone offshore and that’s in part because of cheap wages. We have good labour conditions in Australia by comparison, but why wouldn’t we want those same kinds of conditions to exist for people making the products that we consume?”

Kitto added that Australians had a lot of power to drive positive change in the fashion industry through their choices as consumers.

“If customers preference products that they know are [exploitation free], then businesses will respond to that,” she said.

“We’ve seen a lot of change happen in business through consumer pressure. The big issue for consumers is how do they know, and the great thing about the Baptist World Aid report is that it actually helps consumers to know the situation.

“And when the Modern Slavery Act is introduced, part of what needs to be available to consumers is the knowledge to be able to make informed consumer choices, so they can vote with their dollars.”

An “Ethical Fashion Guide” allowing Australians to make ethical purchasing decisions is available on the Baptist World Aid website here.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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