Australian retailers including Kmart and Target are facing demands from shoppers to more fully embrace ethical supply chains, as a customers take part in a Facebook posting campaign off the back of an Oxfam investigation into the wages of clothing producers across the world.
This week Oxfam asked Australians to contact brands to demand more be done to ensure all their producers are paid a living wage, highlighting more than 10 of the country’s most prominent clothing brands have not committed to a time frame for ensuring all workers across their supply chains are adequately paid.
It also called out a number of brands including Kmart, Target and Big W for having no time commitment on their goals in this area, despite signing up to global ethical trade initiatives like the ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) program.
In the days after the details have been revealed, customers have been hitting a range of retailers on social media with a deluge of demands to speed up their commitments to paying all workers properly.
Some customers have warned Kmart that they will stop buying low-cost products, including children’s clothing, from the brand until the company makes a public statement about how and when it will be sure all factory workers are properly paid.
“I buy a lot of my kids clothes from you guys but I will have to shop elsewhere, find the companies that are supporting people by paying them a living wage,” one Facebook comment writer told the discount department store.
Similar posts can be found on the Target and Big W Facebook pages, where shoppers spoke about the importance of making sure the people who make the products for these big name brands have enough money to support their families.
When contacted by SmartCompany, Target had nothing further to add about the report and customer concerns at this time. Kmart provided a statement which has been published on its website and to social channels.
Kmart Australia is committed to improving the working conditions of people who are employed in our suppliers’ factories. Part of this commitment includes being a member of the Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) since 2015, an initiative between international brands and retailers, manufacturers, and trade unions to address the issue of living wages in the garment and textile industry,” the company said.
One of these commitments made when companies agree to the global ACT code is that “corporate signatories will ensure that their purchasing practices facilitate the payment of a living wage”.
A spokesperson for Big W told SmartCompany the company “fully support[s] the work that Oxfam does to highlight the ethical sourcing challenges, and while we have made progress, we know there is still more work we have to do”.
When asked what Big W’s key priorities are in ensuring ethical supply chain practices, the spokesperson said the retailer is continuing to work towards improving the conditions of all supply chain workers, with a plan outlined in the Woolworths Group Corporate Responsibility Report.
Customers also took to the Cotton On Group Facebook page after Oxfam highlighted it does not have a commitment on time frames for living wages.
In a statement to SmartCompany, the business, which began publishing details of its supply chain companies in 2016, said it was committed to ensuring a living wage for all that contributed to its products.
Cotton On group chief executive Peter Johnson said the company already actively worked with all suppliers on this issue.
“We would welcome the opportunity to partner with Oxfam Australia to achieve this goal,” he said.
Honesty important when concerns raised
Social media expert and director of CP Communications Catriona Pollard says the fact that multiple retailers have been hit with social media backlash over the Oxfam campaign shows just how well consumers and groups now understand how social media can affect business decisions.
“Once comments go on the Facebook page, the brand has to do something about it,” she says.
“It is so effective and I think that if brands really understood that themselves, they would also be using it [social media campaigns to drive change] more.”
Director of Social Concepts, Jessica Humphreys, advises any businesses that are hit with similar concerns to be straightforward with their customers about any action they are taking.
“It’s important that the businesses are honest and don’t provide any misleading or inaccurate information. It’s also worth stating what they are going to do as a result of these concerns,” she says.
The longer-term effect of a social media campaign on a topic like living wages is that customers are galvanised to expect new standards from businesses, Humphreys says.
“It is important to note that these campaigns aren’t purely about encouraging these businesses to make a change. They are also about educating consumers about the business practices of those who they may make purchases from, as well as potentially gaining traditional media coverage in a non-expensive way,” she says.
Pollard says despite there being several case studies available to businesses about social media outrage, some companies are still reluctant to go beyond a standard response to shoppers when they voice their concerns.
“I think businesses tend to give a stock standard response back. But they are getting so many eyeballs on their pages here, they literally have a third party driving people to their pages,” she says.
“They [brands] have this opportunity to change people’s perception of the issue, to say, ‘we do take this seriously and we are doing something about it’.”
* This article was updated at 1:45pm on October 31 to include comment from Kmart Australia.