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Australian Brands Should Pay Garment Workers a Living Wage: Oxfam Report

Meet Florida, she live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She juggles being a mum and working full time. She earns just 35 cents per hour making clothes for Australian brands. She lives with her family in a slum shared with six other families, struggles to buy food and regrets not being able to send her child to school one day.

Oxfam's new report, "What She Makes: Power and Poverty in the Fashion Industry," conducted by Deloitte Access Economics, was released this week examining Australia's garment supply chain.

The report humanises the women overseas who make clothes for major Australian brands including Kmart, Big W, Bonds, Cotton On, and Just Jeans. Florida is one of them.

"If we were paid a little more money, then I could one day send my son to school. We could live happily, we could lead a better life," Florida said.

Read more: 4 Years After Bangladesh Factory Collapse We Ask, Who Made Your Clothes?

The report found that as little as 4% (and in Bangladesh 2%), of the price of a clothing item is paid to the factory worker overseas. That means the Bangladeshi garment worker who made your t-shirt could be earning as little as 39 cents per hour.

Oxfam CEO Dr. Helen Szoke says it would take just a minor 1% per item increase in cost to pay a living wage to the people who made the clothes.

“We are talking about a minute amount — if you are talking about a $10 t-shirt, that would be 10 cents,” Szoke said.

“These are actually amounts that could be absorbed by (fashion and clothing) companies.

“I think Australians would be astonished to know that with such a small change in the adjustment of the price or of what is actually paid by the garment industry, it can make a real impact on the lives of women who aren’t even able to get out of the cycle of poverty, despite the fact they are working seven days a week.” Szoke told 9NEWS.

Currently it is the factory owners, wholesalers, and retailers that reap the profits from the garment industry. It would take a garment worker in Bangladesh over 4,000 years to earn the amount a CEO of an Australian clothing retailer.

Read more: Two Aussie Friends Are Walking Across Southeast Asia to Promote Ethical Fashion

While salaries and the cost of living may be lower in countries such as China and Bagladesh where most Australian brands manufacture clothes, currently workers are not being paid a living wage and can not afford basic necessities such as food, housing and healthcare.

Szoke’s advice to consumers is not to boycott brands, but rather put pressure on them to pay their factory workers a living wage.

"A living wage is not a luxury but is in fact a minimum that all working people should be paid if they are to escape abject poverty," the report says.

Oxfam is launching a company tracker on its website to monitor Australia’s leading brands, including Kmart, Big W, Bonds, Cotton On and Just Jeans.

Global Citizen campaigns to end extreme poverty by 2030. Paying garment workers, who are predominantly women, a fair living wage is essential in building strong healthy communities and allowing families to access food, education, clean water and sanitation, health care and achieve gender equality. Plus it is essential in realising Global Goal Number 8, decent work for all. You can take action here.