Groundbreaking new research from Oxfam has brought the true price of Australia’s fast fashion industry into uncomfortable focus, citing shockingly poor wages and illegal working conditions for almost all factory workers in Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The Made in Poverty Report, the first rigorous probe into the supply chains of major Australian brands, has revealed 90% of women making clothes for brands like Big W and Kmart in Bangladesh and 74% in Vietnam could not make ends meet — with many earning as little as 51 cents an hour.
"This research lays bare the fact that the widespread payment of pittance wages in the garment sector is trapping workers and their families in a cycle of poverty,” the report states.
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Nine out of 10 garment workers in Bangladesh reported they were struggling to feed themselves and their families, with 72% stating they cannot afford proper medical treatment and 89% claiming their wages don’t cover education costs for their children. One in 4 Vietnamese workers reported they continuously fear losing their job and 23% described regular verbal abuse.
Our new research #MadeInPoverty shows that the women who make our clothes are entrenched in a cycle of poverty — because big Australian brands allow poverty wages. Read more: https://t.co/bvzOO87rxKpic.twitter.com/xy0jLzB8up— Oxfam Australia (@OxfamAustralia) February 25, 2019
The report highlights the life of Rita, a factory worker in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka. Despite working seven days a week for the past 14 years, Rita lives in a single 2.5 by 2.5 meter room and constantly struggles to afford basic food and medicine.
Like 1 in 3 Bangladeshi workers, Rita is separated from her children. Her son now lives with her ex-husband because she could not afford to feed him. Once a month, she sends a third of her wage, around AUD 50 dollars, to contribute to his living and education expenses.
"I used to feel very bad inside my mind, my children wanted to eat, but without money how will I feed them,” Rita states within the report. “I work hard for my son, and if I can handle his upbringing well, at the end of my life, when I will grow old, and I won’t be able to work, then my son will be able to feed me a little.”
The Australian fashion industry was worth AUD 23.5 billion last year.
A separate report from Oxfam, released in 2017, showed that the average price of clothing sold in Australia needed to increase by just 1% to ensure workers earned a living wage. But various practices by Australian companies, the report claims, continue to enable workers' payments to be driven down.
"Brands undertake fierce price negotiation, often jump between contracts instead of working with factories over the long term, squeeze lead times for orders, and operate with a separation between their ethical and standards staff and their buying teams, who negotiate directly with factories,” the report states.
In response to the Made In Poverty Report, Cotton On, Kmart, Target, and City Chic have pledged to strengthen their commitment toward achieving proper wages for workers in their supply chains, Oxfam revealed Monday. Big W, H&M, and Uniqlo have similarly released statements following the report, claiming they will take the data on board and continue to work with their suppliers to promote fair pay.