National Manager of Ethical Clothing Australia Angela Bell says fashion companies and major conglomerates have created an industry of low cost, disposable fashion at the expense of workers.
“They have created an industry where we expect clothes to be cheap, we expect them to be disposable…it’s trained all of us to pay less for our clothing, wear it less and throw it away more often, which is not benefiting in any way the workers involved in the process,” Bell said.
Bell spoke with On the Job with Francis Leach and Sally Rugg to discuss the efforts of Ethical Clothing Australia to protect and uphold the rights of Australian garment workers through an accreditation program that maps a business’ entire supply chain. The accreditation begins with annual compliance audits.
“We go out with the union and do the checks around entitlements, do the checks on safety and then if any issues are identified, which they commonly are, they must be fixed and rectified for business to be accredited with us,” Bell explained.
“But that’s through their entire supply chain…Are they paying their workers properly? Are they working in safe conditions? And are they getting their entitlements?”
Ethical Clothing Australia began the accreditation program over 20 years ago in response to upheaval in the local industry as more production started to move offshore.
“What happened amongst that time of disruption was increases in exploitation… the union was raising these issues. They were running legal cases here in Australia. They were also raising it amongst the public in terms of media stories showing the exploitation of workers crammed in sweatshop conditions in Australia,” said Bell.
“But what happened was the businesses who were doing the right thing came to the union and basically said, ‘you know, it’s not great that everyone’s being tarnished here. There’s some of us who value our workers, we’re doing the right thing, paying them properly, providing safe conditions, etc, what can we do?’ and the idea of an accreditation program was born from that.”
The accreditation program means that consumers can more easily make ethical choices when shopping.
“When a business is accredited with us, they get to use the Ethical Clothing Australia trademark. So I would encourage people to look out for the ECA accreditation swing tag.
“But also, if you go to our website, there’s a huge amount of information on there about how you can shop ethically.”