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Some of the biggest Australian fast-fashion brands have been accused of maintaining systemic inequality by buying clothes in factories where workers are paid low wages and forced to work long hours.

New research from the poverty charity Oxfam found that of Australia’s top retailers, H&M was deemed the most equitable with its suppliers, while Mosaic Brands, owner of Katies, Rivers and Crossroad, was the worst.

The report, titled Shopping for a Bargain and released today, ranked 10 fashion retailers in Australia, including Best & Less, Big W, Cotton On, H&M, Inditex (Zara), The Just Group, Kmart, Myer, Mosaic Brands and Target.

Mosaic Brands, Noni B’s parent company, was ranked the worst. (AAP)

It found that retailers were accused of aggressively negotiating prices, providing short lead times and making last-minute changes to orders that directly affected the lives of factory workers.

All of the mentioned retailers source their clothing from Bangladesh, which Oxfam approaches to rate the retailers based on how fair they were with their prices, as well as their willingness to negotiate.

Using a four-star system, factories in Bangladesh received the highest H&M ratings of 3 out of 4, followed by Big W, Kmart and Target, which scored 2.5 out of 4.

Apparel retail giant H&M performed relatively solidly in polls. (AP)

Cotton On, Zara and Myer and Best & Less received 2 out of 4, while The Just Group and Mosaic Brands received just 1.5 out of 4.

Oxfam Australia CEO Lyn Morgain said research shows that fierce prices in the Australian market have real implications for those who make the clothes thousands of miles away.

“The investigation reveals that unfair purchasing practices are putting pressure on factories to adopt poor working conditions and pay unacceptably low wages,” said Ms Morgain.

Zara refused to participate in the survey. (To dpa / Picture Alliance via Getty I)

“It found that these bad brand purchasing practices make it impossible for factories to raise wages, despite the fact that many of the same brands publicly commit to guaranteeing the payment of living wages.

“Instead, wages are trapping workers, mainly women, and their families in a cycle of poverty.”

The Oxfam report notes that The Just Group, Myer, Cotton On and Zara declined to participate in the survey, as did Mosaic Brands.

This means that their overall score out of four was simply what the factories gave them.

More than 150 surveys were completed and 22 in-depth interviews were completed with factory owners, supervisors, workers and union leaders.

Kmart ranked on par with Big W and Target with a score of 2.5 out of 4. (AAP)

Morgain said more fashion brands needed to publicly commit to paying supplier factories a fair price for products, to give workers a living wage.

“Brands that are lagging behind must take the step of making a credible, public commitment to living wages,” said Ms Morgain.

“With just one month left until Christmas, buyers must demand that big brands end this cycle and improve the way they do business, in turn giving real meaning to their commitments to end poverty wages for the women they do. Our clothes”.

9News.com.au has contacted the listed retailers for comment.


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