25 February 2019

A new Oxfam report on the garment industry has blamed Australian companies for using Bangladeshi and Vietnamese sweatshops in their supply chains. A factory supplying Kmart pays as little as 55c an hour, and a factory supplying Big W pays just 51c an hour — with disastrous effects on workers and their families. There is absolutely no reason for this. Wages could be dramatically lifted without significant impact on the price of clothes: “Deloitte Access Economics estimates that on average just 4% of the price of a piece of clothing sold in Australia goes towards the wages of the workers who made it. Oxfam said if brands absorbed the cost of paying a living wage, it would amount to less than 1% of the garment price.” Instead, Oxfam found in chapter 4 of its report that Australian brands engaged in aggressive tactics to drive down prices (and therefore wages). On the other hand, Oxfam’s scrutiny seems to have had some effect, with a number of brands claiming they will do better. Time will tell.