Almost 70 per cent of Australians would pay more for their clothes if they knew overseas workers were paid a decent wage and that garment factories had safe working conditions, according to a new Oxfam Australia survey.
The survey, which examined attitudes to Australian clothing retailers after more than 1100 Bangladesh garment workers died when their factory collapsed in April, revealed 84 per cent of consumers want Australian companies to sign onto an accord to improve safety at Bangladesh factories.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said given that sweatshop conditions were the norm throughout Asia, and globally, it was not enough for companies to assure customers the people making their clothes were working in safe conditions – proof was needed.
“Since 2005, more than 1800 people have died in fires and building collapses in Bangladesh. Companies must do more before more lives are lost,” she said.
Dr Szoke said more than 50 companies around the world had already signed up to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety which will make independent reports on factory safety inspections public, allow workers to refuse dangerous work, ensure training for workers and that companies are covering building repair costs.
On Friday, Cotton On became the fourth Australian company to sign onto the Accord. Dr Szoke praised the retailer’s decision to join after they completed their enquiries with IndustriAll on the implementation of the agreement.
“Following public debate on the conditions of clothing workers, only four Australian companies – Kmart, Target, Forever New and Cotton On – have prioritised clothing workers’ health and safety by joining this important Accord. The pressure is now on for Big W, Best and Less and other Australian companies sourcing from Bangladesh to follow suit.
“Our research highlighted that 83 per cent of those surveyed want clothing retailers to stop being so secretive and publish their supplier factories’ locations so independent checks can find out how workers are being treated,” she said.
After mounting consumer pressure, companies, such as Adidas, Nike, Puma, Levis and Timberland published their global supplier factory lists a number of years ago, with H&M recently publishing the names and street addresses of 164 factories in Bangladesh alone.
According to Dr Szoke, unless Australian companies published the names of overseas factory locations from where they source their clothes, there was no way of independently verifying that people were working in safe and decent conditions.
“A number of European and American companies are already being transparent about where their garments are produced so why is it different for Australian companies, why can’t they do the same?” she said.
The Oxfam survey also found that since the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse, more than two thirds (71 per cent) of respondents are concerned about the conditions in which overseas workers are making their clothes and 81 percent think Australian clothing companies have a responsibility to ensure overseas workers are paid enough to cover basic needs (such as food, clothing, housing).
“The devastation caused by the factory collapse has prompted many Australians to think twice about where their clothes come from,” Dr Szoke said. “Our research shows consumers want Australian retailers to prevent further tragedies by taking greater responsibility and looking after the thousands of workers who make the clothes we wear everyday.”
For more information, or to set up an interview with Dr Helen Szoke, contact Rachael Nightingale on 0449 881 980 or Chee Chee Leung on 0412 560 584