Will Chesty Bonds singlets be made in sweatshops now?: new Oxfam report on labour rights

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 23 Mar 2009

Oxfam is calling on Pacific Brands and other major Australian clothing companies to take more responsibility for the rights of the overseas workers who make their goods. This follows today’s release of a report that found a Hong Kong-based company that coordinates the manufacture of some Pacific Brands products rates poorly on efforts to eradicate sweatshops.

The Oxfam report, Transparency Report 2: Have Hong Kong Garment Companies Improved their Reporting on Labour Standards?, released today (Monday 23 March 2009), researches 26 major Hong Kong-based suppliers and clothing companies, rating these companies on how open and clear the companies are in reporting on the wages and conditions of the workers producing their goods.

The report also gave low ratings to Giordano, Esprit, Bossini and Chickeeduck, which are sold in Australia. The scores are significantly lower than those obtained by a study of Canadian companies using the same methodology.
Oxfam Labour Rights Advocacy Coordinator Tim Connor said more and more Australian clothing retailers were contracting another company to coordinate all aspects of production – from sourcing of materials to manufacture and transport.

Hong Kong based Li & Fung Ltd provides this coordination service to Pacific Brands for their Sheridan products and other Australian clothing companies including Just Jeans.

Dr Connor said that by relying on Li & Fung to take care of production, companies also were relying on Li & Fung to take care of labour rights concerns.

“Li & Fung has a code of conduct, and claims to monitor factory suppliers’ performance against that code,” Mr Connor said.

“But Li & Fung refuses to release information about the way that monitoring is done, whether any labour violations are found, and whether any steps are taken to correct problems. Li & Fung also keeps secret the names and addresses of all its supplier factories, which makes it impossible for an external organisation to verify workers’ conditions.

“If Australian companies are serious about labour rights, they should require their foreign suppliers to be much more transparent.

“Pacific Brands and Just Jeans have made important improvements to labour conditions for the minority of their production which occurs in Australia; it’s time they got serious about labour rights for the majority of their production which takes place overseas.”

“With Pacific Brands now moving jobs off-shore, we will be watching closely to see if it chooses Li & Fung to manage production of Bonds and other brands which have been produced here.”

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Notes to editors:
Li & Fung Ltd has an annual turnover of more than US$10 billion per year and is the world’s largest sourcing agent. It offers clothing retailers a “full package” service, including managing relationships with factory suppliers, quality control, transport management, export documentation, product design and development and production planning.
The report assessed the performance of the companies’ management of supply chain labour standards according to 19 standard criteria across five categories: Governance and Risk Management, Code of Conduct, Stakeholder Engagement, Management, and Auditing and Reporting.

Scores were awarded according to how close the company’s reporting efforts were to international labour standards and emerging best practices. The overall score of each company ranged from 0 to 100.

To interview Dr Connor, please contact Laurelle Keough on 0409 960 100 or laurellek@oxfam.org.au