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Author of report by Baptist World Aid Australia says companies have improved significantly since 2013 in knowledge of their suppliers, but have a long way to go
Bangladeshi garment workers rally for better work conditions. It has been almost three years since the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed 1,137 workers. Photograph: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / BarcroCalla Wahlquist
@callapillaWednesday 20 April 2016 17.56 EDTLast modified on Wednesday 20 April 201621.00 EDT
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9 Save for laterOnly 5% of Australian fashion companies know the origin of the raw materials used to manufacture their products and just 16% have fully traced their input supply chain, according to a new report.
The report, released by Baptist World Aid Australia on Thursday, three days before the three-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed 1,137 garment workers in Bangladesh, assessed 87 companies on their manufacturing, supply, and workers’ rights policies.
It found that of the 87 companies, which represent more than 300 clothing brands, 78% had started tracing their input suppliers, a third could prove they were paying “significantly above” minimum wage to a portion of workers in their final stage of production, and two-thirds were working to actively improve their relationships with suppliers.
The companies were assessed on their policies, knowledge of suppliers, auditing practices and supplier relationships, and worker empowerment, and given a grade of between A and F.
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Seven companies received an A grade, led by fair trade companies Ekito and Audrey Blue, which were both graded A+. Inditex was given an A, followed by Adidas Group, Liminal Apparel, Patagonia and Rrepp, which all received an A-.
Nine companies – Ally Fashion, Boohoo, Brand Collective, Factory X, General Pants, Pavement United Brands, Roger David, Seed Heritage and Voyager Distributing Co, were graded F. All were among the 22% of companies that the report’s authors said did not engage with the assessment process.
The average grade given was a C+.
Gershon Nimbalker, one of the authors of the report and advocacy manager for Baptist World Age, said the results showed Australian companies had improved significantly since the non-profit’s first annual report in 2013 but that the industry still had a long way to go. He said that was particularly the case in protecting workers who produce the raw materials used in garment manufacturing, which laboured under the worst conditions.
“Our biggest concerns is despite seeing substantial progress at the input factory worker level, at the fabric-mill level, they are the next-tier down and companies do not necessarily know about the conditions in those factories,” he told Guardian Australia.
Nimbalker said he witnessed those conditions on a recent visit to an Indian fabric mill.
“We watched girl after girl after girl that were working in horrible conditions,” he said. “Many of them were in forced labour or bonded labour. Some of them had been working since they were 13 years old. Many of them were being paid below minimum wage.”
At the garment factory level, he said, international scrutiny since the Rana Plaza collapse had seen the minimum wage in Bangladesh increase by 87%, from just US$38 a month to US$71a month.
“Companies are certainly concerned about their brand and their reputation and I think that is a big motivator,” he said.
“It’s not happening as fast as we would like it to happen but we are seeing some significant improvements now.”
David Giles-Kaye, chief executive of the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia, said the report showed an improvement, but said it was “never going to be a good result” until all workers involved in the manufacture of clothes were paid a fair minimum wage – a change that he said required a concerted, combined effort on behalf of companies and governments alike.
“At the grassroots, it’s about making sure that the people making these clothes, whether they are at the first tier or second or third, are being paid a fair minimum wage,” he told Guardian Australia.
Giles-Kaye said the industry also needed to do more to educate consumers so that they looked for – and if they couldn’t find, demanded – transparent information from companies about where and how their clothes were manufactured.
“Then consumers will be demanding even more strongly that companies address these issues,” he said.
Nimbalker said the not infrequent occurrence of suppliers sub-contracting work for Australian companies to factories that do not meet the required standards, such as Rip Curl jackets being made from a North Korean factory, did not mitigate the company’s responsibility.
“This has been a well-known problem in the industry for a long time, that suppliers will sub-contract out, so you need to have strong systems in place,” he said.