A few years ago I was in Cambodia being driven along one of its crowded streets where the only rule of the road seemed to be “get out of the way of somebody who’s driving a bigger vehicle than you”, when I saw a number of flatbed trucks carrying people jammed in like sardines pass by. I asked my Cambodian host who they were and he replied they were people who worked in the clothing factories being transported to their workplace. Conditions didn’t improve much when they got off the trucks and the wages they received were pitifully low, not enough to survive on. Yet a job in a clothing factory left many of them better off than they were trying to farm in the countryside.
This is the reality of global trade. Some of the clothes manufactured in those factories by those very people who drove past me will make their way to Australia where they’ll be sold at a cheap price by people happily chanting slogans such as “down down prices are down.”
The good news in all of this is that change is not only possible, but it’s happening. Today Baptist World Aid Australia released an updated edition of its global fashion report. The report ranks companies in the fashion industry according to their supply chain practices, that is the policies and practices they have in place to ensure workers are paid fairly, have decent working conditions, and child and slave labour is not used.
It’s an amazing piece of work, with 87 companies assessed against more than 40 criteria and consideration given to the treatment of workers at every stage of production from the farm to the factory.
Baptist World Aid first began producing this report a couple of years ago and there have been some astonishing changes as a result of it. Since 2013 the number of companies tracing inputs suppliers has increased from 49% to 79%; the number of companies tracing their raw materials suppliers has increased from 17% to 39%; the number of companies who had improved wages for at least some portion of their workers had grown from 14% in 2015 to 33% in 2016.
The issues are quite complex and the Baptist World Aid fashion report doesn’t try to dumb them down or cut through to some kind of simplistic assessment. It’s a brilliant piece of work by dedicated team of justice champions.
Best of all, for those who want the topline results there is a pocket summary guide. Get a hold of it, see how your favourite companies rate, and either preference the product of those who rate better or write to your favourite company asking them to do better in the next report.
The report and the summary version are both available at behindthebarcode.org.au
Disclaimer: I previously worked for and now consult to Baptist World Aid Australia