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Times up for fashion exploitation

Posted by Angela Crocombe on

If you aren’t already aware of it, Etiko achieved an A+ rating in the 2013 Australian Fashion Report, the first research report to take an unbiased look at the supply chains of major fashion brands. Obviously we are proud of this achievement but to be frank we’re puzzled why haven’t we been swamped with enquiries from retailers wanting ethical products? And why haven’t the current affairs programs been knocking on the doors of some major fashion brands and asking why they received an F and what they're going to do about it?

We assure you, it wasn’t easy to provide the information needed for the report. Nick Savaidis, our MD says, ‘as a small business, the reality is that we are doing so many other things every day. It took us two and a half weeks to complete the report. It couldn’t have been done without the help of other people and other organisations.’

But big companies have the resources and staff needed to supply all that paperwork. Yet, the report showed that many of them have no idea about their supply chain, who is actually making their products, and under what conditions.

Etiko was one of only a handful of companies that could account for their product for the entirety of its supply chain. Gershon Nimbalker, Advocacy Manager at Baptist World Aid, which produced the report said, ‘It was great to see Etiko going the extra mile in ensuring their supply chain was ethical, by ensuring that workers at every stage of their production, from farm to factory, were being treated well and paid fairly’.

With the spotlight in 2013 focused on dangerous and inhumane conditions at factories in Bangladesh, the information provided in the Australian Fashion Reportcould not come at a better time. The report examines 41 companies, both local and international, responsible for 128 brands available in Australia, and assessed what efforts they are undertaking to protect workers in their supply chains from exploitation, forced labour and child labour. Not only do companies need to have policies to ensure that exploitation does not occur across their supply chain, but they also need to be able to monitor their suppliers and ensure that policies are being followed.

Once the report came out, there was interest for about a day. We had a few congratulatory emails and there was an article in The Age, which argued that the overwhelming majority of brands had no idea where their cotton was coming from and were most likely using cotton picked by children taken out of school and forced to work in Uzbekistan. Yet there was still no public outcry!

People should be asking more questions and demanding that companies clean up their act, or choosing to purchase their clothing with companies who do have an ethical supply chain. But the majority of people are not. They say they care about the use of children as workers or the poor conditions for workers in Bangladesh. Yet, they still buy their clothes at the same old places that continue this exploitation.

Time’s up, Australia! We can’t plead ignorance anymore. There is too much information available to show us where to shop. Documents like the Australian Fashion Report help us determine where a brand’s loyalty really resides – gross profits or humane production?

We now have the power to choose products that have been ethically sourced, not made from exploited labour. So let’s vote with our dollar, keep fashion fair and ask our school, our workplace and our local community to do the same.

To read the Australian Fashion Report visit: behindthebarcode.org.au