Are You Wearing Sweatshop Clothes?

I was in Toronto three years ago when from the Rana Plaza factory collapse occurred. I was there for a conference and noticed an H&M store down the road from my hotel. I love H&M, it’s an affair that began when I was living in the UK. And since Adelaide (still) does not have a store, I took the opportunity to stock up.

A couple of hours later, loaded with H&M bags I flopped on my hotel bed and flicked on the tv. They had begun naming the brands that were paying these Bangladeshi workers – mostly women – menial wages with appalling conditions.

Rana Plaza factory collapse killed more than 1,100 people and injured 2,500, mainly women workers.

And yep – there it was H&M. Looking at my new wears I suddenly felt sick.

Ever since that day I have looked at the labels to see where something is made and if possible research labels before making a purchase. And it looks like I’m not alone.

A new Oxfam survey has found that Australians are willing to pay more for clothing from a company that ensures garment workers have safe and decent conditions.

“Our survey showed that 21 per cent of those polled were happy to pay more than $10, another 30 per cent would pay between $5-10, and 48 per cent would pay an extra $2 – $5. This is incredible, given that just $1 more would mean a substantial difference to a worker earning only $20 a week,” Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said.

The survey examined attitudes of 1,000 people towards Australian companies producing garments overseas.

89% of Australians would pay more for clothes to ensure safety of overseas garment workers

“The survey also showed that 87 per cent of Australians polled were not confident overseas workers making clothes for Australian clothing companies are earning a fair wage and working in a safe and clean environment,” Dr Szoke said.

Oxfam has also released a new scorecard on the transparency of Australian fashion brands globally. It found seven out of 12 of Australia’s major fashion retailers are still not publishing a full list of names and locations of their overseas factories for all to see.

So while most Australians want companies to behave ethically, we’re actually being ignored.

“The Oxfam Survey revealed that 87 per cent of Aussies polled agree that all companies should publish the names and locations of their factories abroad,” Dr Szoke said.

“Our big brands, including household names such as Cotton On, Pacific Brands (that own Bonds), and The Just Group (that own Just Jeans and Peter Alexander) still haven’t published the names and locations of all the factories they use around the globe.”

We still know that in Bangladesh, for example – the second-largest supplier of clothes to the Australian fashion industry – workers are paid only about $20 (AUS) a week. Working conditions also mean they often work up to 11 hours a day, six days a week.

“This is not enough for these women to lift themselves out of poverty.”

But Oxfam does have some good news. The Specialty Fashion Group (that own Rivers, Katies and Millers) and are publishing their full garment factory details. They join Kmart, Target and Coles.

“Bringing garment factories out of the shadows is a first step towards better conditions for the people who make our clothes,” Dr Szoke said. “It is time that all Australian brands publish these details.”

This Mother’s Day help another mother out of poverty.

From Oxfam

Socially conscious Australian shoppers have the chance to change the lives of people living in poverty with Oxfam’s new range of beautiful, handmade, fair and ethically sourced dresses and everyday basics. The range consists of vibrant, bold dresses in flattering styles, basics including cardigans, tops and leggings and soft, silky sleepwear made from organic cotton.

The new range of fair fashion is not only stylish and affordable; it gives people the opportunity to buy clothes made by garment workers who are being empowered by receiving a fair wage and preserving traditional techniques while fighting for gender equality and combating child labour to make an impact on global poverty.

From the Producers:


Creative HandicraftsCreative Handicrafts is a growing Fair Trade Organisation working predominantly with women in the Indian textile industry. Established in 1984, the aim of Creative Handicrafts is to empower women through the creation of high quality products.

Following a three month skills-training program, women are encouraged to join cooperatives that are financially and administratively managed by their members. The Coop’s administer loans and savings schemes and an elected head manages production and serves as a link to Creative Handicrafts. Creative Handicrafts currently works with 13 cooperatives comprising of around 20 women each.


MAHAGUTHIAlpha Fashion

Mahaguthi markets the handicrafts of more than 1,000 Nepali artisans working in 150 workshops through a network of stores in Nepal and various fair trade organisations in Australia, Europe, Japan and North America.

Mahaguthi’s focus is to promote the wellbeing of artisans, to provide employment and to embrace and promote the principles of Fair Trade. Artisans receive medical and education allowances, paid leave and maternity leave. A significant portion of Mahaguthi’s profit goes to Tulsi Mehar Mahila Ashram, a shelter home for women and children focusing on rehabilitation.



Rajlakshmi 1Since 1934 Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills (RCM) have worked hard to reach their dream of becoming a leader in organic cotton production. Based in Kolkata, India RCM are a pioneer in the organic and ethical cotton industry and are certified by FLO-Fairtrade Cotton Standard, Fair Trade-USA and Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS).

Through their work with RCM the artisans receive better living conditions – particularly in regards to healthRajlakshmi 2, education and housing. RCM take great pride in the quality of their relationships with farmers, suppliers and partners and focus on giving specific attention to the social and economic welfare of their workers.

To see more of these producers click here.