More than 60% of global fashion brands are not taking appropriate action to ensure workers in their supply chain receive a living wage, according to an Australian fashion report released this month.
Released this week by Baptist World Aid Australia, The Truth Behind the Barcode reviewed more than 300 global and domestic brands.
The report claims many popular fashion brands fail to give consumers confidence that their materials have not been sourced through slavery or exploitative means.
Baptist World Aid advocacy research and campaign coordinator Jasmin Mawson told SmartCompany the study was conducted to determine what these companies are doing to ensure workers are not exploited and if the companies are investing enough to mitigate risks of child labour and forced exploitation.
Baptist World Aid then graded brands under various criteria including policies on freedom of association, how well they know suppliers, how transparent they are about this “from cotton to the final stage of production”, auditing and investment in these relationships and worker empowerment through systems like unions, collective bargaining and grievance mechanisms.
In review of this, brands including Boohoo, General Pants and Zara were given an overall grade from A down to F in the 2016 Ethical Fashion Guide.
“What we’re hoping from this report is an increased awareness among consumers and among companies that this is something that consumers care about,” Mawson told SmartCompany.
“Consumers vote with their wallet and prioritise brands that invest in ethical sourcing.”
Dangerfield was one of the brands that received an F-grade, however, Dangerfield representative Kara Brooks told SmartCompany the brand does have an internal social and ethical compliance policy and its suppliers must complete audit reports.
“Dangerfield do not and will not manufacture in Bangladesh,” Brooks says.
“We manufacture in China and India where we visit regularly.”
In response to Baptist World Aid’s new fashion guide, Brooks says the company chose not to reply.
“We made the choice not to reply as we are satisfied with our ethical standards and are continuously revisiting and striving to improve,” she says.
“The publicised “F” grading that was released for Factory X’s social and ethical position reflected a mark which was given from a non-response, not based on our manufacturing standards.”
Increasing moral conscience
Since releasing the Ethical Fashion Guide in 2013, Baptist World Aid reports 30% more companies are now tracing where their fabrics come from while 20% more are tracking down the source of raw materials.
Following ground level investigations in India, the group discovered grievous exploitation occurring at the input supplier end of production like fabric mills, raw materials and cotton farms.
“We found that it’s those parts of the supply chain, which are unknown and unmonitored, are where the worst forms of worker exploitation occur,” Baptist World Aid advocacy manager Gershon Nimbalker said in a statement.
“If companies don’t know, or don’t care, where their materials are being made than it’s virtually impossible for them to know that workers aren’t being exploited or even enslaved.”
Three years following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which saw more than 1000 people killed, Nimbalker said more needs to be done to protect workers.
“We know that labour costs represent just a fraction of the price tag – there is some research that suggests that an additional 40 US cents more could ensure Bangladeshi garment workers are able to receive a living wage,” he said.
Nimalker commends brands such as H&M and Kmart Australia for taking steps to ensure their suppliers are paid rightful living wages.
“These companies show that it is possible to pay higher wages and operate profitably. Paying workers, a living wage would be relatively painless for consumers and companies, yet it would transform the lives of millions of workers around the world,” he said.
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