Australia Ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Oxfam releases report on Australian fashion brands

05:11  25 november  2020
05:11  25 november  2020 Source:   msn.com

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According to Australian Retailers Association boss Paul Zahra, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become an "incredibly important part of the Australian "We've also recently undertaken the biggest hiring blitz in our history, bringing on more than 5,000 staff ahead of Christmas across processing

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text: The Just Group is among those rated 'poor' to 'very poor' in Oxfam's report. (Supplied: justjeans.com.au) © Provided by ABC Business The Just Group is among those rated 'poor' to 'very poor' in Oxfam's report. (Supplied: justjeans.com.au)

Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are still relatively new phenomena in Australia, but their popularity already has them rivalling some of the biggest retail events of the year.

The sale days follow the Thursday Thanksgiving holiday in the United States and offer massive discounts in the lead up to Christmas.

But as shoppers line up to take advantage of the sales online and in person, there are warnings for consumers to consider where their goods are coming from.

Some of Australia's best-known fashion retailers have been accused of heavy-handed purchasing practices that are preventing promised improved wages and conditions for some of the world's lowest-paid garment workers.

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That is the stark finding of a report released by Oxfam Australia and Monash University.

Kmart, Myer among those investigated

The report looked at the practices of 10 brands or retail groups that sourced products from garment factories in Bangladesh.

It follows industry efforts to improve conditions in the country following a 2013 garment factory collapse that left more than 1,000 people, mostly female garment workers, dead, and raised serious questions about worker safety.

The brands investigated were Best & Less, Big W, Cotton On, H&M Group, Inditex (Zara), Kmart, Myer and Target Australia, along with two retail groups: Mosaic Brands, the parent company of stores including Rockmans, Rivers, Noni B, and Crossroads; and The Just Group, which oversees brands including Dotti, Just Jeans, Jacquie E, Peter Alexander, and Portmans.

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The report used evidence gathered through more than 150 surveys and 22 interviews with factory owners, production managers, merchandisers, supervisors, factory workers, unionists, economists, and NGOs in Bangladesh.

Brands were also invited to participate and to provide their own ranking. Those that did were provided with a 'self rating' as well as the 'factory rating'.

"One of the things that the factory owners have talked about is that where the forecasting of brands is poor, either they order too much or too little, factories themselves having to manage that problem," Oxfam Australia chief Lyn Morgain said.

"And oftentimes they do it in ways that either requires excessive overtime or push down the already terribly low wages of workers."

One Bangladeshi supplier, who spoke to the ABC on the condition of anonymity for fear of backlash from the brands his company made garments for, said the situation was extremely difficult.

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"I have never seen such low prices in my entire life," he said.

"Even sometimes we are finding it really hard to manage to break even with our costs."

In the Oxfam report, 40 per cent of factories said they had taken orders at below the cost needed to produce garments compliant with the brand's minimum standards.

The Bangladeshi supplier said brands were putting orders on hold as they tried to work out what their demand and sales would be.

"Business is almost (at a) standstill," he said.

"They are also trying to understand the situation and the market condition(s) before they buy.

"They are not saying it (orders) are cancelled, rather they are saying they're on hold."

How do the brands stack up?

H&M received the best rating of the group, with a self rating of 'Very Good' and a factory rating of 'Good' to 'Very Good'.

Just Group and Mosaic Brands were ranked equal worst at 'Poor to Very Poor'.

"Those two groups particularly are frankly laggards in respect of the commitments the consumer expects, because they're still not publishing basic factory information," Ms Morgain said.

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Myer, Cotton On, and Inditex (Zara) were the next-worst brands.

Oxfam said none of those ranked the lowest participated in the study by the deadline.

Datawrapper chart

Just Group did not respond to the ABC. Myer did not respond by deadline.

Mosaic Group strongly rejected the suggestion it was not forthcoming.

"Regrettably, despite agreeing to participate in this report 10 months ago, we were then only contacted by the researchers earlier this month with the claims contained in an embargoed report," Mosaic's head of compliance Nic Williams said in a statement.

The company said it was disappointed by the report and had concerns about the methodology used.

"Although Bangladesh is one of our smallest sourcing markets, the report does not state how many Mosaic suppliers were interviewed and does not reflect the extensive safety and wage auditing processes we have in place in Bangladesh and globally," Mr Williams said.

"We acknowledge and fully support the work that Oxfam and other NGOs have done to improve supply chain practices and factory conditions in the last 20 years."

Sales 'part of worker exploitation problem'

Gordon Renouf, the founder of the ethical fashion website and app Good On You, said Black Friday sales were a chance for people to consider which companies to spend money with.

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"The whole point of Black Friday is for more and more people to buy more and more stuff, even if they don't need it," he said.

"As we know, most of the clothing we wear in Australia has been manufactured overseas, often in Asia and often in very poor working conditions."

Good On You has rated 3,000 brands across a range of categories, including sustainability and workers' rights.

Mr Renouf said marketing events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday were "part of the worker exploitation problem".

"I think high-pressure sales has become part of the fashion industry, which is really not to its credit," he said.

"It motivates people to buy stuff they don't need, it motivates people to buy on price up front rather than [on] the lifetime cost of a garment, which is a more useful concept."

Consumers have power to force change

Oxfam Australia commended the brands that participated and said many were shocked by the findings and, in some cases, were unaware the practices were happening.

That can be because brands are working with retail agents who buy from factories on their behalf.

"It's challenging because often those supply chain negotiations can become quite crowded," said Professor Gary Mortimer, a retail and consumer expert from the Queensland University of Technology.

"It may be the case that the retailer may engage with the buyer-agent to procure a container of joggers or t-shirts, and that negotiation is between the retailer and the buying agent. What happens after that is very difficult for a retailer to engage in."

Ms Morgain said she hoped that by identifying the problem, work could begin to fix the situation, especially given so many brands had already committed to lifting wages.

"Whilst the commitment to living wages is outstanding and we commend the brands that have taken that step, it does risk being simply lip-service unless we also see a commitment to transparent changes, things like ring-fencing wages in contract negotiations, bearing more of the risk of errors or poor forecasting, ensuring that the supply chain has reduced the level of risk to human rights abuses."

Mr Renouf said consumers needed to remember they had power.

"I'd say to consumers that you have the power to make change, and every choice you make influences the brands you buy from," he said.

"If you look for brands that are doing better on the issues that matter to you (like) labour rights, the environment, animal welfare, then that does actually influence brands."

Amazon says this year's holiday shopping period has been its biggest ever. Obama's presidential memoir, the Echo Dot speaker, and a DNA test are among its bestsellers. .
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