A host of major retailers have been called out ahead of the Christmas shopping rush for failing to fess up about the origins of their products and the conditions for their factory workers.
Oxfam published its annual ‘Naughty and Nice’ list on Thursday, labelling Zara, Jeans West, Kmart, Target, Big W, H&M, Uniqlo and Best & Less as ‘naughty’ for not committing to analysis about whether workers in their international supply chains are paid a living wage.
Oxfam Australia chief Lyn Morgain said some of Australia’s biggest retailers aren’t doing enough to ensure suppliers extend safe work conditions and enough pay to make ends meet.
She said Australia’s clothing industry bounced back from COVID-19 with $1 billion in profits in the past year, but this came at the expense of those workers doing it tough as inflation soars.
“Exploitation can’t be built into the business model,” Ms Morgain told The New Daily.
“It must include the payment of living wages and profit must come after that.”
Naughty or nice?
Oxfam defines a living wage as earning enough money in a standard work week to cover basic family essentials, including food, housing, healthcare, transport, education and recreation.
This year the group asked retailers to analyse whether workers in their supply chains were paid enough to afford these essentials, and where that wasn’t the case to identify how short they fell and make a plan to fix it.
Many brands undertook the analysis and were deemed “nice”, including Myer, Cotton On, Gorman, Dangerfield, Country Road, Rivers, Noni B, Katies and Millers.
But others – Zara, Jeans West, Kmart, Target, Big W, H&M, Uniqlo, Best&Less, Just Jeans, Peter Alexander, Dotti, Portmans and Jay Jays – failed to make the commitment when pressed.
Zara and Jeans West have been named the “naughtiest” retailers on this year’s list because in addition to failing the wage gap test, they also failed to share the locations of their factories.
Ms Morgain said that such a lack of transparency is a clear red flag for global aid groups.
“We’ve always known that without disclosure of factory lists it’s impossible to independently verify what brands say,” she said.
“And where a brand has withdrawn that information from the public domain, that’s a big fail.”
In contrast, activewear retailer Lorna Jane was named the “nicest” retailer this year, because it was the only brand to both complete and publish the results of its supplier wage gap analysis.
Christmas shoppers empowered
Ms Morgain said that in the five years Oxfam has been publishing its list many retailers in Australia have improved their practice.
It’s a sign that brands respond when shoppers are given information about what companies are prioritising the welfare of garment workers.
She said shoppers should look through this year’s list before doing their Christmas shopping, and decide whether they wanted to support brands that are still failing to be transparent.
“Quite a lot has changed, sophistication of shoppers has grown enormously,” Ms Morgain said.
“The fact we’re now at the point where brands themselves are seeking these wage gap analysis demonstrates that consumers want a level of verifiable details.”
The New Daily contacted each retailer on the naughty list for comment prior to publication.
A spokesperson for Uniqlo Australia said it and parent company Fast Retailing recognise that a living wage is a worker’s right and strive to maintain minimum wages in their supply chains.
“We regularly collaborate with the Fair Labor Association, an organisation that is committed to fair compensation, to analyse wages compensation data at all our partner factories to identify the wage gaps of workers, and to find solutions of the identified wage gaps,” they said.
A spokesperson for BIG W said the company signed up to the Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) agreement in 2020, which is pushing to “achieve living wages” for workers through bargaining.
“While we recognise the important work Oxfam does towards ending the injustice of poverty however, we believe conducting an individual brand wage gap analysis will not create the systemic change required across apparel supply chains,” the spokesperson said.
Best&Less executive chair Jason Murray said his company had been on Oxfam’s nice list in the past two years, prior to 2022.
“In relation to this year’s criteria, all of our supplier factories are fully audited and we are well progressed with implementing systems to allow us to complete a robust wage gap analysis,” he said in a statement.
“Our website has our most current factory listing for transparency of our sourcing partners. We have worked openly and regularly with Oxfam in relation to our sourcing approach and will continue to do so.”