Naughty or Nice: The Aussie brands dodging workers’ rights

Sumi Abedin pictured outside the Just Jeans store in Bourke St, Melbourne. Although severely injured, Sumi survived the Tazreen garment factory fire in Bangladesh by jumping from the third floor; she was in Australia last year highlighting the poor working conditions still faced by many Bangladeshi garment factory workers.

Oxfam sorts the movers and shakers from the real fakers when it comes to fair Australian fashion. Discover which clothing brands are dodging workers’ rights.

Two years ago Oxfam released its first “Naughty or Nice” list. We outed the brands who refused to protect their workers rights and applauded the ones who did. Now, in 2015, what’s changed? Who still won’t sign the Accord? And how do you demand more for the people that make your clothes?

Go to Oxfam’s shopping guide

Why should you care?

The companies behind some of Australia’s biggest clothes brands put a lot into the promotion of their image and products. But how much do they care about the women who make their garments? The answer would appear to be “not much” or “not enough”.

It’s been nearly three years since the shocking collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh which killed more than 1,100 workers and injured 2,500 more. Prior to its collapse, the multi-story building housed several garment factories that produced clothing destined for a number of wealthy countries including Australia.

We know the Rana Plaza collapse was entirely preventable. Despite visible cracks in the walls of the building reported the day before, the workforce of mainly young women were ordered to remain at their work stations.

And we know that this is just one of many building collapses, fires and other disasters to strike garment factories in Bangladesh.

Oxfam has a long history of working with the Australian public, the companies who make your clothes, and garment workers like Sumi (pictured above), to campaign for fairer working conditions in countries like Bangladesh.

Since the Rana Plaza collapse we’ve been calling on Australian clothing companies to:

  • Sign up to the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord to help ensure tragedies like this are never repeated.
  • Provide publicly available up-to-date details of the countries and factories they source from. Making this information public ensures we can verify that supply chains are ethical, and that working conditions are fair and safe.
  • Develop strong ethical sourcing policies that extend health and safety commitments to the whole of their international supply chains.

Your garment shopping guide for Christmas 2015

We rank and sort Australia’s big clothing brands on three criteria:

1. their signing (or not) of the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord;
2. their transparency; and
3. other important policies.

The Fakers

All fancy marketing and no substance? That’s our assessment of the brands that have taken little action to ensure the workplaces in their supply chains are fair and safe for the people who make their clothes.

Best & Less

accord_red

Best & Less has made the least progress of all the companies that Oxfam has been engaging and assessing since the Rana Plaza collapse. Best & Less are one of only two companies we’ve been watching closely that continue to source clothing from Bangladesh but have not signed the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord.

transparency_red

Best & Less has not published its factory locations. This lack of transparency prevents independent checking of their assurances that its garments are made in safe working environments.

policies_yellow

Best & Less have published an Ethical Sourcing Code but this code falls short of the bar set by many other brands. It fails to provide details on how the code is enforced, whether it’s built into garment factory supplier contracts, and who audits the code to ensure conditions are being met. Among other things, this failure means we are unable to establish the independence of their auditors.

The Just Group (includes Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Dotti and Peter Alexander)

accord_red

The Just Group is the other company sourcing from Bangladesh that has so far refused to sign the Fire and Safety Accord. Instead, they have signed the US company-led version called the Alliance. The Alliance isn’t a credible alternative. as it is much weaker, not legally enforceable, and crucially, it doesn’t involve clothing workers in the decision-making process.

transparency_red

The Just Group has not published its supplier factory locations. Failing to publish this information means it is impossible to independently verify worker’ conditions in the Just Group’s supply chain.

policies_yellow

These are troubling on a number of fronts. First, the Just Group have published a basic Ethical Sourcing Statement but have no publically available Ethical Sourcing Code (a code and its contents are important as, unlike a public statement, they usually form part of the enforceable supplier contract and always form the basis for audits).

Next, the Group’s major sourcing agent Li & Fung — which is also one of the Just Group’s auditors — has been repeatedly called out by human rights, labour rights and environmental groups for its failings in auditing. Having its sourcing agent acting simultaneously as an auditor raises questions about potential conflicts of interest.


The Movers

These brands have moved on workplace health and safety. This is good to see, but we think they could do more to ensure their fashion is fair.

Specialty Fashion Group (includes Millers, Katies, Rivers, Crossroads)

accord_green

Specialty Fashion Group (SFG) signed the Accord early and have been active within it. Well done!

transparency_yellow

In October this year, SFG made a written commitment to publish its supplier factory details but are yet to do so. We look forward to this happening.

policies_yellow

SFG has an Ethical Sourcing Policy in place but has not yet made it publically available. The company must take the next step and publish its Ethical Sourcing Policy.

Pacific Brands (includes Bonds, Berlei, Jockey)

accord_green

Pacific Brands joined the Accord in late 2013.

transparency_yellow

Pacific Brands has published a substantial list of countries they source garments from. This includes the percentage sourced from individual countries, the number of factories, who owns the factories, and details on auditing. This information is a good first step towards transparency, but a firm commitment to publish a full list of suppliers is still required.

policies_yellow

Pacific Brands has published a comprehensive Ethical Sourcing Policy and introduced a Social Compliance Policy; its suppliers are required to comply with these policies. Pacific Brands is currently the only Australian member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an international initiative co-founded by Oxfam. This is fantastic, but without a commitment to publish details of specific suppliers, and locations of factories, these strong policies cannot be easily reviewed.

The Cotton On Group (includes Cotton On, Cotton On Kids, Factorie, Supre)

accord_green

The Cotton On Group joined the Accord in the second half of 2013.

transparency_yellow

Cotton On hasn’t published its supplier lists but has committed to do so by April 2016. In the interim, it has taken steps towards transparency by publishing a basic country breakdown. This includes percentages of the garments sourced from each of its supplier countries.

But without a list of factories, and publication of its audit details, it will be hard to verify the claims made by the Cotton On Group before April 2016.

policies_yellow

Cotton On has published an Ethical Sourcing Policy that it calls the “14 Rules of Trade”. While this policy is clear, we don’t have details of its auditors or information on how the code is enforced.

Woolworths (includes Big W)

accord_green

Woolworths joined the Accord late in 2013. It has also joined a number of other initiatives (including the United Nations Global Compact) that encourage businesses to uphold human rights and social responsibility within their supply chains.

transparency_yellow

Woolworths has published a partial list of suppliers limited to those in Bangladesh. This means Woolworths’ claims on working conditions can only be verified in Bangladesh, not throughout their global supply chains.

policies_yellow

Woolworths has published their Ethical Sourcing Policy; this is clear and concise. This includes important details specifically relating to home workers: an area rife with worker exploitation in many developing countries. Like too many other brands however, Woolworths’ policies are let down by its limited transparency. Without it, their commitments on ethical sourcing can’t easily be checked across the board.

Forever New (includes Forever New, Ever New)

accord_green

Forever New joined the Accord in 2013.

transparency_yellow

Forever New is well on the way to strong transparency, but not quite there yet. They have committed to publishing a full list of supplier factories and have assured us they’re working to get permissions from their suppliers to do this. As different suppliers agree to this requirement, Forever New has been publishing their names — these now span several countries. This is a positive interim step.

policies_yellow

While Forever New is not a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), it has adopted the ETI Code as a central part of its own Ethical Sourcing Policy. This is positive, however we don’t know details of their auditors or how adherence to the code is verified; this is important information that we are encouraging the company to disclose.


The Shakers

These brands have been stirring things up with strong action to provide fairer working conditions in their garment supply chains. There’s still more to be done to ensure fair wages growth across their supply chains, but we’ve seen some great progress in worker safety and transparency so far.

Target

accord_green

One of the leaders in this space, Target was the second company on our list to sign the Accord back in 2013.

transparency_yellow

Target was also the second company to publish information on their supply chain with a limited listing of their supplier factories posted online in August 2014.

Target’s list has expanded since then. However, their lists don’t include the Chinese factories from which it sources garments as, like many brands, they claim to need permission from factory owners before publishing their names, and they say this is difficult to obtain. We encourage Target to get in touch with Kmart who have found a way to do this.

policies_green

The Ethical Sourcing Policy, Code and Guidebook published by Target are the most comprehensive of those put out by the companies in this list. In addition to strong content that draws from best practice international standards (like the Ethical Trade Initiative and the International Labour Organisation’s conventions), Target has also published a guidebook. This includes details outlining what its code and policy actually mean. In short, Target is on target.

Coles

Accord: N/A

The company no longer sources from Bangladesh (Coles has committed to sign the Accord if it returns to sourcing clothing from Bangladesh in future).

transparency_green

In September 2014, Coles became the third of our target companies to publish a list of its clothing suppliers. It then went a step further, committing to publish all of its supply chains, even those beyond clothing. This is a significant commitment to transparency.

policies_green

Coles has published a clear and concise Ethical Sourcing Policy. It includes the major points identified in international standards, including the Ethical Trading Initiative and International Labour Organisation conventions.

Kmart

accord_green

Kmart acted quickly. They were the first Australian company to join the Accord.

transparency_green

Kmart didn’t stop there. They were also the first to act on transparency by publishing their supplier factory lists and are also one of only two brands to list their clothing factories in China. It appears that Kmart has published all their supplier factory locations for the garment sector.

policies_green

Kmart’s Ethical Sourcing Policy is clear and concise. Like a number of other brands this has been adapted from the Ethical Trading Initiative base code and International Labour Organisation conventions. In addition, Kmart has also published a supplement that provides broader detail and explanations. This makes their policy package very comprehensive.

That’s a (gift) wrap for 2015

That’s it. Our 2015 wrap up of the progress — and in some cases lack of it — by Australia’s big clothing companies. We’ve made some great progress, but there’s still a lot to do.

The progress wouldn’t have been possible without you. Time and again, Oxfam supporters have taken to email, Facebook, Twitter, and to the streets to demand that the companies who supply our clothes provide their workers with safe and fair working conditions.

Next year, we will be continuing our work with supporters like you to push for even greater transparency in supply chains. But transparency isn’t the end goal. We’ve already started talking to the companies about paying living wages in their supply chains. So watch this space. For now, we hope this guide will help you to shop more fairly this festive season. Please share it.

PS: You can also shop ethically through Oxfam Shop.