Aussie fashion’s safety shame

| April 24, 2018

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse, leading Australian clothing brands that have stubbornly and shamefully refused to sign a critical safety accord are being urged to live up to their responsibilities.

Thirteen prominent Australian organisations have united to call on Australian brands that are lagging behind the rest of the industry to sign the 2018 Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord, developed in the wake of the building collapse that claimed the lives of more than 1100 workers in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013.

The group, which includes Oxfam Australia, Stop the Traffik and the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Sector of the CFMEU, say the Accord is crucial to maintaining and improving safety standards in a bid to prevent another similar tragedy.

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke said there was no room for complacency on safety by a booming fashion industry that turned over more than $27 billion in Australia last year.

“Signing the Accord is about ensuring the absolute basics in the rights of more than two million garment workers – more than 70 per cent of whom are women – in Bangladesh,” Dr Szoke said.

“While safety concerns persist in some Bangladesh garment factories, the Accord has had a real impact. This is just one step in tackling the appalling treatment of workers, with a growing call for increased transparency and the payment of living wages to allow them to break the cycle of poverty.”

Michele O’Neil, from the TCF Sector of the CFMEU said: “No worker should have to risk their life in the making of our clothes.

Brands have a responsibility for the whole of their supply chain, including the conditions of the workers whose labour they rely on. There is no justifiable basis for Australian brands sourcing from Bangladesh to refuse to become a signatory to this Accord.”

Many of Australia’s largest clothing brands sourcing from Bangladesh signed the initial Accord, which was the first agreement of its kind between brands, factory owners and unions representing workers.

More than 200 brands and retailers, two global trade union federations and eight Bangladesh garment unions joined forces to develop the Accord, which provides for independent safety inspections that have been conducted in more than 1600 factories since 2013.

The 2013 Accord will expire next month, and many iconic Australian brands – including Kmart, Target, Big W, Cotton On, Forever New, Specialty Fashion Group (Katies, Millers, City Chic and Rivers), APG and Co (Saba, Jag and Sportscraft) and Designworks (Everlast, Republic, Dunlop and Mooks) have already done the right thing and signed on to the new the Accord.

But other much-loved brands that signed the previous Accord – including Noni-B, Workwear Group and Licensing Essentials – are dragging their feet and are yet to join the 2018 agreement.

And some well-known Australian brands – the Just Group (Just Jeans, Peter Alexander), Best and Less, Myer, Fast Future (Valley Girl, TEMT) and Country Road – have failed to sign either the old or new Accord, indicating an unwillingness to engage with best practice, care for their workers and letting Australians know they can have confidence purchasing from their stores.