Australian fashion industry guilty of “system of entrenched exploitation”

A study led by Oxfam Australia as part of the ‘What She Makes’ movement, has uncovered the dark secrets of Australia’s fashion industry, highlighting the “system of entrenched exploitation” affecting garment workers making clothing for Australian brands.

Research found that wages for garment workers are as low as AUD 55c per hour, with over two thirds of Vietnamese workers unable to afford basic needs such as food, housing, education and healthcare. In Bangladesh, 88% of workers report regular verbal abuse and 28% report sexual abuse in the workplace. According to the report, “100% of Bangladeshi garment workers earn below the living wage compared against Asia Floor Wage, and Global Living Wage Coalition.”

In an interview with Thomson Reuters, Oxfam Australia’s advocacy manager Joy Kyriacou expressed concerns that “we will continue to see a fashion industry that is perpetuating and fuelling a system of poverty” unless changes are made soon. Many large companies have stated that they are enacting changes, but very few have verified this with further details or data. Although the newly introduced Modern Slavery Act requires corporations with more than A$100 million in turnover to report on modern slavery risks, smaller businesses are not required to report.  

“Since there’s a lot of competition among Bangladeshi factories internally, Australian buyers or any other buyers use this to their advantage and as a result give owners low prices that in turn affects the workers,” reports Babul Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation.

In the report, Oxfam published recommendations for businesses and government in how to best tackle this issue.

“There’s no doubt that big brands are propping up this system of poverty wages and exploitation in the garment industry in order to make a profit. But it’s not just by making money from this exploitation that demonstrates how brands are a part of this problem. The practices of big brands actively keep wages low, and force tough choices onto workers and factory management”, the report says.

For the full report click here.

Sonja Duncan