Is what you’re wearing right now made from slavery? Would you change the way you shopped if you knew?
My team (props to Jasmin Mawson and Claire Cremen) and I have just released a report that rates a massive 219 brands on what they are doing to ensure that there is no slavery, child labour or exploitation used in making the clothes they sell. Are the brands you buy doing enough to make sure people aren’t exploited?
If you want to find out keep reading!
Remembering Rana Plaza Collapse
Tomorrow marks two years since the fatal Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, an event which saw the lives of 1,100 garment workers tragically cut short and is now recorded as the second worst industrial accident of all time.
Mahmuda Akther and her husband were inside when the factory collapsed. They had both come to Dhaka seeking a better life. Although wages in the factory were low, the alternative, trying to eke out an existence in their home village, was even worse. Mahmuda could not longer afford to stay home and care for their newborn daughter, so she started to work alongside her husband. When the factory came down, in some ways, Mahmuda was more fortunate than many – she survived. Tragically, her husband did not.
Stories like Mahmuda’s managed to pierce the conscience of consumers, retailers, investors and governments in a way that’s not happened before. All around the world, consumers like me and you were asking the question of:
Who is making our clothes and how are they being treated?
Making the grade
We hope our report helps to shed some light on these questions.
We graded companies from A to F, on what they were doing to minimise the risk of slavery and child labour as well as what they were doing to ensure workers were being paid decent wages.
How does the grading work?
Receiving an A grade does not guarantee that there is no exploitation in these firms. Higher grades correspond to systems, that when implemented well, should considerably reduce the risk of exploitation. Adequate systems and policies ensure companies know if they are exploiting workers like Mahmuda and/ or exploiting some of the world’s 21 million slaves or 165 million child labourers!
So, how did your favourite company rate?
Check the infographic below, and go to behindthebarcode.org.au to find out more.
There were two big concerns for us in our findings.
- While most companies knew their direct suppliers (final stage of production) when we went deeper into the supply chain, only 1/4 of companies knew where their fabrics were coming from and less than one in ten knew where their cotton was being sourced.
It is often at these deeper levels of the supply chain where some of the worst worker rights abuses occur. About 70% of the world’s 165 million child labourers work on farms!
- 86% of all companies were not actively looking to ensure that workers were being paid decent wages – and only two companies could demonstrate that they were in fact paying living wages (i.e. wages high enough to cover the basics and have bit left over). These were the Fairtrade companies Etiko and Audrey Blue.
Some of the Best and Worst
Sadly, many of the worst overall performers were iconic Australian Fashion brands such as the Just Group and low cost brands like Lowes and Best & Less. These companies all received D- or F grades!
On the plus side, K-Mart released a complete list of its direct suppliers, a huge step towards transparency; Cotton-On took big steps forwards in identifying suppliers deeper in their supply chain; and H&M, Zara, the Susan Group and Country Road demonstrated that they had made efforts towards paying better wages for workers overseas.
Since launching our report the response has been huge! We’ve been engaging with media all over Australia: TV, papers, radio and online! It’s started to get traction internationally as well – apparently we’re big in India now, who would have thought?
What’s really exciting though is the impact: Many of the companies have written to us, with one of the best rated companies saying they’ve seen a big bump in sales, and a number of the worst rated saying that they want to engage going forward. How good is that!? If we can work with these companies to improve their practices we can change the lives of thousands, maybe millions!
- Take part in Stop The Traffik’s “FASHION REVOLUTION DAY” against slavery
- Wear your clothes inside out this Friday and take a selfie @GAP* @Justjeans** – the two labels we are targeting this Fashion Revolution Day
- Join us in asking #whomademyclothes #makefashiontraffikfree
- Purchase ethically. Every dollar you spend based on an ethical decision sends a message to companies about how you want your clothes made. Go to www.behindthebarcode.org.au to order our handy ethical purchasing guide you can take with you when you shop. You can also download our full report and find out what’s really happening in the fashion industry.
- Promote the report. Share it on social media, talk to your friends about it and get them purchasing ethically too.
- Speak out to companies. Write to companies and engage with them online – congratulate them for their efforts and call them to do more.
 Mahmuda’s story was reported by the Guardian Newspaper UK, The Shirt on your Back interactive slavery documentary. http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2014/apr/bangladesh-shirt-on-your-back