Isn’t it time we started paying a sweatshop tax?

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Written by: Nick Savaidis, Founder of Etiko

Consider for a moment, the price you pay for fashion. And then consider the price your parents, and your grandparents paid for fashion. Fashion is cheaper today than it ever was before, and that’s part of the reason why Australians have more clothing than ever before, and dispose of it at a higher rate than ever before.

Let’s run through some figures to put it all in perspective. The value of the average Aussie home has increased by about 225% over the last 30 years, and the average wage has increased by nearly 200%. Logically it would stand to reason if the cost of manpower and the cost of living has risen so dramatically, so too would the cost of manufacturing fashion. Yet the price of fashion has gone nowhere but down.

How can this be?

The answer as I’m sure you know, is offshore manufacturing at a reduced cost.

It is significantly cheaper to have garments made in “developing countries,” and ship them across the globe in the name of driving profits. And let’s be clear, this isn’t just because the countries manufacturing these goods have a lower cost of living. It’s because big businesses allow for workers within their supply chains to work in horrendously dangerous conditions for a ridiculous minimum wage. In a country like Bangladesh, the difference between a government sanctioned ‘minimum’ wage and a living wage, is nearly 200%. This is modern day slavery, and part of a problem involving an estimated 40 million captives around the world.

There is no possible way for fashion to be both cheap and fair.

Running a genuine eco-friendly and ethical business is challenging on so many levels. The biggest issue is persuading customers to pay a price which allows for overseas workers to receive a living wage. To ensure cotton farmers get a decent return for their toil, and the products are made with the least impact on the environment.

The good people behind Outland Denim, an ethical Australian jean brand, sell their designs for around $200. This may seem a large sum compared to the $50 you would pay at your local-fast fashion store, but $200 is the real price and the fair price for ethical and environmentally conscious jeans. And if they were made in Australia, that price would be higher again.

Consumers need to adjust their perspective on what constitutes a reasonable price for fashion, and governments need to hold corporations accountable for the ecological and social disaster that is fast fashion.

This is why I’d like to propose a new tax. A tax for fashion retailers, multi-nationals and any corporation who profits from sweatshops and sells their products in Australia. It’s called the sweatshop tax, and it is high-time Australian politicians asked companies to pay the true cost of manufacturing their wares.

As a manufacturer of Fairtrade products, we pay a 15% premium which goes exclusively to workers in our supply chains, who then chose how best to use this money. The Australian government could implement a similar scheme, or pay annual bonuses to sweatshop workers and boost their salary to a liveable amount.

We could use this revenue to become a nation of innovators, and create a fabric recycling plant within Australia and responsibly deal with the aftermath of fast fashion. Revenue could be used to drive research and create solutions, to repair the natural environment of the damage caused during the production and distribution of fashion. It could be used to put the fair price, the real price, back onto the price tag of every garment in your local shopping mall.

How do you think a sweatshop tax should be spent?

 

Written by: Nick Savaidis, Founder of Etiko

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