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The people making your clothes aren't getting a living wage

This year’s Ethical Fashion Report wants to make you a more conscious consumer

Many Australian fashion brands have a long way to go to make the ethical fashion grade, according to a new report.

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The annual Ethical Fashion Report, released by Baptist World Aid, reveals only one in 20 companies could demonstrate that all workers at their final production stage were being paid a living wage, described as “a wage that is sufficient for workers to be able to afford the basics – food, water, healthcare, clothing, electricity and education – for themselves and their dependant.”

The lack of progress in increasing living wages for garment workers is the “most disappointing”.

Only 17 per cent of companies could demonstrate that any workers in the final stage of the supply chain were receiving a living wage. And only 34 per cent of companies had adopted a methodology even to calculate what a living wage might be in the region in which they operate.

Gershon Nimbalker, Baptist World Aid’s advocacy manager, says the lack of progress in increasing living wages for garment workers is the “most disappointing”.

In Bangladesh, a minimum entry-level wage for a garment worker is $US63 a month.

“I think this is the most troubling result coming out of this report,” Nimbalker told Eternity. 

In fact, most of the Asia-Pacific region’s 43 million garment workers do not receive a living wage, according to the report.

In Bangladesh, a minimum entry-level wage for a garment worker is $US63 a month. The Global Alliance suggests a living wage in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, would be closer to $US214 a month. Similarly, in Vietnam, the minimum wage for a garment worker is $US153, close to half of the estimated living wage of $US290 a month.

The report identifies some standout brands that are ensuring living wages are paid to workers. Those include Outland Denim, whose factory in Cambodia partners with the workforce to understand what a fair living wage looks like. The company seeks not only to pay not their factory workers that wage but also to seek out fabric suppliers with a track record of promoting labour rights.

Other brands including Fairtrade-certified Common Good and Etiko can also demonstrate that living wages are paid to all workers in the final stage production and the production of their fabrics.

A newcomer to the report in 2018, Outland Denim was the only brand to receive an A+ grade across all four report categories.

The report, now in its fifth year, grades 114 clothing companies (incorporating 407 brands) from A to F on their commitment to protecting the labour rights of their workers, based on their performance mitigating the risks of exploitation at every level of production.

The median grade was C. Only eight brands received an A+ grade in 2018:

  • Common Good
  • Liminal Apparel
  • Etiko
  • Freeset
  • Icebreaker
  • Audrey Blue
  • Mighty Good Undies
  • Outland Denim

A newcomer to the report in 2018, Outland Denim was the only brand to receive an A+ grade across all four report categories: policies, transparency and traceability, auditing/supplier relationships and worker empowerment.

“Beyond its A+ grade, Outland Denim are a company that have set themselves up to intentionally help people escape the trap of poverty. They work with girls who have been abused and often trafficked and offer them jobs, give them dignity and a community and allow them to start looking after themselves. That’s wonderful to see,” says Nimbalker.

With an A rating, Cotton On Group is this year’s best rated large multinational fashion group headquartered in Australia.

“[Cotton On] is not yet paying a living wage, but they’ve invested substantially in their systems to trace their productions and monitoring their supply chains, which means that issues like slavery and child labour start to become far less prevalent in the production of their products, which is exciting to see,” says Nimbalker.

Cotton On is a great example of a company changing the way it operates because of pressure from Christian consumers, Nimbalker told the Justice Conference in Melbourne last year.

He said that when the first Ethical Fashion report was compiled, Cotton On scored a D-minus and “didn’t want to hear from us.”

When thousands of people, notably many Christians, spoke up and said why they wouldn’t shop there any more, Cotton On decided to do something about its ranking.

“Consumers need to become more conscious of their shopping. This report is a tool to help them do that.” – Gershon Nimbalker

“This is a great example of the church expanding our circle of love and changing the practices of one of the biggest corporates in Australia,” he told the conference.

Nimbalker says that fashion consumers should use today’s report, and the accompanying Ethical Fashion Guide, to favour the companies that have been graded highly.

“Consumers need to become more conscious of their shopping. This report is a tool to help them do that.

“If your favourite brands aren’t doing that well, then take the opportunity to speak out to them. Communicate to them via social media or email or letters. Let them know that you want them to be more transparent, to ensure that workers are paid a living wage from farm to factory.”

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