Of the companies researched in our last publication, a remarkable two thirds have improved their labour rights management systems, 100% now have codes of conduct (up from 85%) and the number of companies that actively engaged with the research process has increased from 54% to 94%. Some companies that have made significant improvements include Kmart, which has released a complete list of its direct suppliers, a huge step towards transparency; The Cotton On Group, which has taken big steps forward to identify suppliers deeper in their supply chain; and H&M, Zara, Country Road and the Sussan Group which have demonstrated that they have made efforts towards paying better wages for workers overseas.The Fairtrade companies once again are a stand out, with all their brands receiving A grades. Etiko still retains top honours, having traced its entire supply chain and taken action to ensure workers at the inputs and final stage of manufacturing levels of the supply chain are being paid a living wage. Etiko’s performance is only matched by the newcomer, Audrey Blue, who shares Etiko’s supply chain. The Cotton On Group takes honours for being the highest rated, non-Fairtrade Australian retailer, while H&M and Inditex, the two biggest fashion retailers in the world, are amongst the best rated international brands, receiving A-grades while also taking action to ensure workers at the final stage of production are being paid above the minimum wage. Only Hanesbrands received a higher grade, an A, but has yet to demonstrate any action on improving worker wages.
While there are promising signs for the fashion industry, the problems remain significant. Overall the industry is still categorised by poverty level wages. A mere 12% of companies could demonstrate any action towards paying wages above the legal minimum, and even then, only for part of their supply chain. Furthermore, 91% of companies still don’t know where all their cotton comes from, and 75% don’t know the source of all their fabrics and inputs. If companies don’t know how and where their products are made, then there’s no way for them to ensure that their workers are protected.Sadly, many of the worst overall performers were iconic Australian fashion brands such as the Just Group (owner of Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Dotti, Peter Alexander and Portmans), fast retail brands like Ally, Valley Girl, Temt and Industrie, and low cost suppliers like Lowes and Best & Less. These companies have all received D or F grades. We could find little evidence that any of these fashion retailers were doing much, if anything, to protect workers overseas. Many of them had little or no publicly available information and/or didn’t respond to any of our requests to engage with the research process.