Clothing retailing industry must share $1 billion profits with garment workers who help generate them

Oxfam is calling out fashion brands Zara and Jeans West for failing to commit to transparency by sharing factory locations and benchmarking garment workers’ wages, as retailers prepare for Black Friday sales and the pre-Christmas rush.

The two brands have been declared the ‘naughtiest’ on the anti-poverty organisation’s annual Naughty or Nice List, which congratulates brands that have made commitments around living wages and calls out those that can do better.

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said figures show that the clothing retail industry has well and truly recovered from the pandemic, with revenue rising by 18% over two years, and profits at $1 billion in the past year alone.

“Increased profits for shareholders must not come at the expense of those playing a key role in generating those profits,” she said.

“With cost-of-living pressures building across the globe, we know that, here and overseas, those who are already living in poverty are most at risk when inflation bites.

“Brands should be factoring living wages into the cost of doing business. They are responsible for ensuring everybody in their supply chain, including the women who make their clothes, are paid above the living wage, so they can help themselves and their families out of poverty.”

A living wage means enough money is earned in a standard work week to cover basic essentials for a family including nutritious food, housing, healthcare, clothing, transportation, energy, water, childcare, and education, as well as some discretionary money and provision for unexpected events.

Ms Morgain said that while consumers were increasingly conscious of the environmental impacts of the rapidly growing fast fashion industry, the human impacts were less visible.

“There’s no doubt that it’s the workers at the end of the supply chain – who are mostly women – who are bearing the brunt of the increased pressure that is the inevitable by-product of a faster production schedule,” Ms Morgain said.

“That’s why fast fashion brands such as Zara must be even more accountable. They can do this by improving transparency and engaging in responsible purchasing practices such as the separation of labour costs in contracts.

“Because we know that irresponsible purchasing practices, such as short production times, last-minute order changes and pressure on factories to reduce their prices, lead to excessive working hours, and other potentially exploitative impacts on workers.”

As part of Oxfam’s What She Makes campaign, this year, brands were asked to commit to conducting a wage gap analysis, which involves calculating the difference between current worker wages and the living wage, before developing a plan to bridge the gap.

Some brands, including Myer, Cotton On, Gorman, Dangerfield, Country Road, Rivers, Noni B, Katies and Millers made that commitment and have been declared ‘nice’ on this year’s list.

“The women making our clothes often work 12 hours or more per day, but because they make as little as 58 cents an hour, they can’t afford decent housing, food or healthcare – let alone put aside savings for a rainy day,” Ms Morgain said.

“We all know that if you want to fix a problem you need to know exactly what it is, which is why this is an important step on the journey to paying a living wage.

“We applaud all the brands that have made that commitment, but one in particular stood out this year for all the right reasons. We congratulate Lorna Jane, which we’ve declared the ‘nicest’ brand on our list. It’s the only brand that has already completed and published the results of a wage gap analysis.”

Meanwhile, Best & Less, Big W, Kmart, Target, Modi Bodi, Just Jeans, Peter Alexander, Dotti, Portmans, Jay Jays, Uniqlo and H&M were labelled ‘naughty’ for failing to make the commitment to conduct a wage gap analysis or to meet other criteria from previous years of the What She Makes campaign.

“While these brands have taken at least one step towards paying a living wage, they can and must do better by increasing their transparency and being up-front about their progress.”

Ms Morgain encouraged shoppers to take a look at Oxfam’s 2022 Naughty Or Nice List as they hit the stores for tomorrow’s Black Friday sales and in the lead up to Christmas.

“Shoppers have real power to encourage their favourite brands to do the right thing. We want them to join us in calling on brands to recognise the human impacts of their business decisions and to do better by the women who make their clothes.”

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