Australian fashion brands have cared more for their clothes than the people making those, reveals a new report.
“Systemic exploitation” of workers has been enabled by Australian companies, whose buying practices compel factory operators to cut production cost, says the report by Oxfam Australia.
It uncovered that Australian firms put pressure on garment factories in many ways including fierce price negotiation, short-term contracts with factories, and reducing delivery time at one end while imposing fines for not meeting those squeezed deadlines on the other.
Oxfam, together with Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies and the Institute for Workers and Trade Unions in Vietnam, has interviewed more than 130 factory owners, managers and others in powerful positions, as well as 472 women working in Bangladesh and Vietnam factories.
The report released yesterday said 100 percent workers interviewed in Bangladesh were not paid a living wage, and nine out of 10 could not afford enough food for themselves and their families until their next monthly pay.
It found that 72 percent workers in factories supplying to major brands in Australia cannot afford medical treatment when they get sick or injured. In Vietnam, it was at 53 percent.
All the factories supply clothing to Australian brands such as Kmart, Target, Big W, Cotton On and more.
“The Australian fashion industry was worth almost $23.5 billion in 2018 -- a staggering amount. But a system of entrenched exploitation and the widespread payment of poverty wages is denying the workers making our clothes the opportunity for decent lives,” the report said.
Even if overtime income is considered, over 98 percent workers in Bangladesh and 52 percent in Vietnam earn below a living wage compared against Global Living Wage Coalition benchmarks, it added.
Oxfam, an international confederation of 20 NGOs, has labelled the findings an indictment on the fashion industry.
According to the report, 76 percent workers interviewed in Bangladesh have no running water inside their home, and more than 40 percent in Vietnam reported worrying about having to use well or rain water.
In Bangladesh, one in three workers are separated from their children, with nearly 80 percent of those cases due to a lack of adequate income.
“More than 82 percent of the workers and 100 percent of the supervisors interviewed in Bangladesh told us that management can terminate any worker at any time. In Vietnam, more than one in four workers are in constant fear of losing their job,” the report stated.
Aggressive price negotiation by brands has an impact on manufacturers' ability to pay wages to their workers. Intense competition for business pushes the owners and managers of garment factories in developing countries to engage in a “race to the bottom” on prices, said the report.
It recommended that the fashion brands should get the basics right on human rights, make a credible commitment to living wages, and develop and publish a living wage roadmap.
Bangladesh exports garment products to Australia worth over $500 million a year, according to statistics of Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh.