Clothes can say a lot about a person, but they can also reveal a lot about who made them too.
What you decide to wear and the clothes you choose to buy matters. It can be the difference between someone having a decently paid job with dignity and passively contributing to the growing menace of modern slavery in the fashion industry.
That dynamic is made clear in the latest edition of Baptist World Aid’s Ethical Fashion Report which was published last week.
The international development organisation has issued its latest scorecard on the business practices. It evaluates 100 of the world’s biggest fashion companies representing 420 globally recognised brands.
Companies are graded across areas such as policy and governance, worker empowerment, supplier relationships and human rights monitoring, environmental sustainability and tracing and risk practices.
The Ethical Fashion survey began in 2013. Peter Keegan is the Director of Advocacy at Baptist World Aid. He told “On the Job” that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to disruption in supply chains and clear visibility of the impact on work practices, with some businesses rising to the challenge and others falling well short.
“On the consumer side, I think the disruption of the pandemic and the way that that’s changed the way that we behave, the way that we shop, the way that we think about what we’re buying, it’s probably increased the interest and attention issues of where our clothing are coming from, how they’re made and the impact it has on workers and on the environment.”
“For manufacturers, the pandemic has seen a major disruption to the mechanisms brands have put in place to see what’s happening in their supply chain. Monitoring and auditing processes stopped for a period of time.”
“So, we’ve been concerned about the risks that poses for issues like modern slavery and really severe labour exploitation in supply chains.”
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Mr. Keegan is also alarmed about the disruption the pandemic has caused to the job prospects of an already marginalised and exploited workforce.
“Millions of workers were let go without their severance pay being paid, or maybe they were kept on the books but lost wages that they’re entitled to.”
“The estimates that we’re seeing is that it’s well over 11 billion US dollars’ worth of workers’ wages and severance pay, that workers haven’t been paid. That’s to some of the most vulnerable workers in the world who are working in those early stages of garment supply chains in countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, and India.”
Jenny Kruschel is the Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) National Secretary of the Manufacturing Division of the CFMEU. She is also a committee member with Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA), a body that monitors Australia’s clothing and footwear industries to ensure ethical labour and environmental practices.
Speaking with “On the Job”, Ms Kruschel said that the work that ECA does remains the only independent ethical compliance oversight most manufacturers in Australia are subjected to.
“The ECA is the only accreditation process where there’s a proper accreditation taking place (in Australia) where the union goes in and audits the workplace, speaks to the workers, and is available for workers to raise concerns.”
“Whilst we’re making some progress, there’s always employers out there who are wanting to do the wrong thing.”
Many well-meaning consumers think that buying Australian made garments ensures that they are purchasing clothes that have an ethical origin. That’s not always the case according to Ms Kruschel.
“Buying Australian made doesn’t always mean it’s ethical but if you do buy a garment that has accreditation with ECA then you know that it is.”
“If our clothes are made ethically, it’s normally a better product. Just as importantly we know that the workers are being paid the wage that they’re entitled to be paid.”
“There are laws in Australia that set minimum wages, and it’s no excuse to say you can’t afford to do it, because you shouldn’t have a business if you’re not prepared to pay workers what they’re entitled to.”
Peter Keegan points out there is now an increased focus on the fashion industry’s environmental impact. As the world readies for crucial climate action talks at COP26 in Glasgow, the fashion industry is increasingly being held to account for its carbon footprint.”
“On some estimates, the fashion industry – from the cotton field, polyester manufacturing, transport and sales point activity, right through to our use as consumers – contributes up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So, it’s not a small player. In fact it is more than double the emissions of an industry like aviation that we tend to associate as being a huge emitter.”
“Fashion has a big role to play in addressing the challenge of climate change and what needs to happen for us to move towards a net zero world in 2050.”
The Official Australian Unions Store proudly sells ECA approved, Australian-made, union-made apparel – with all proceeds going back to in our campaigns for a better future for working people. Click here to visit.