Fashion brands slow to improve wages

Fashion brands in Australia are taking slow steps towards ensuring the workers who make their clothes are paid a decent wage.

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A new report card on the local fashion industry shows that while many companies now have better information about their suppliers, most haven’t acted to make sure garment workers receive a living wage.

Data collected by Baptist World Aid found the number of companies able to show that a portion of garment workers, who are usually in third-world countries, earn significantly above the minimum wage has more than doubled.

However, two thirds haven’t taken any action to ensure workers receive a living wage, or enough money to cover basics such as food, water, shelter, clothing and healthcare.

Pumpkin Patch, Oroton, General Pants, and Best & Less all rated poorly in the report.

Baptist World Aid advocacy manager Gershon Nimbalker said low wages force garment workers, who are usually young and female, to remain trapped in poverty at a time when the fashion industry generates more than a trillion dollars in export revenue.

“It’s good for companies in terms of their reputation and long-term profitability and sustainability if their workers are paid well,” he told AAP.

“From a consumer angle, they can choose to vote with their wallets and preference those companies that look after their workers and make sure people aren’t being exploited.”

In terms of how much extra consumers could pay if workers received a living wage, the report noted a Fair Wear Foundation study that estimated up to $US5 ($A6.39) would need to be added to an item’s price tag.

Mr Nimbalker said much of the problem stems from fashion brands not knowing enough about their suppliers – which range from those who grow cotton, to fabric makers and garment factories.

The report found while a growing number of companies (over 70 per cent) know about their manufacturing suppliers and “input” suppliers such as fabric makers, just five per cent know who supplies the raw materials used to make their garments.

Mr Nimbalker said that until more companies know about “input” and raw material suppliers, workers risk being abused.

A total of 87 companies that own 300 brands were assessed by Baptist World Aid, with each given a rating ranging from A to F based on how they mitigated the risk of exploitation.

Just two scored an A+: Etiko and Audrey Blue.

Textile & Fashion Industries of Australia boss David Giles-Kaye said as consumers were more educated about supply chains, companies that don’t lift their game to end exploitation could lose customers.

“There’s a moral issue first and foremost but at the end of the day it’s good business practice as well,” he said.

The report was released just before the third anniversary of the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, where 1134 people died and hundreds of others were injured.

FINDINGS ON FASHION COMPANIES

* 87 companies assessed

* median grade was C+

* six received A grades, nine received Fs

* 79pct trace input suppliers, up from 49pct

* 39pct trace raw materials suppliers, up from 17pct

* 5pct know where their raw materials come from

* 3pct publicise data about wages paid to workers

* 48pct publicise which countries they source from

SOME OF THE BEST AND WORST PERFORMERS

* As : Etiko, Audrey Blue, Adidas, Patagonia

* Bs : Cotton On, Country Road, Target, David Jones, Pacific Brands, H&M, Inditex (Zara)

* Cs : RM Williams, Quiksilver, Bardot, Billabong, Big W, Coles, Lowes, Myer

* Ds : Lorna Jane, Pumpkin Patch, Oroton, Best & Less

* Fs : Boohoo, General Pants, Roger David, Seed Heritage

Source: Baptist World Aid Australia