01.Locally made clothes
You’re likely to spend an average of $2288 on clothing and footwear this year. And if you’re concerned about the conditions those clothes were made under, it’ll be difficult to find out.
Made in Australia
Sweatshops aren’t exclusive to low-wage countries. In fact, it’s likely any clothes you wear with a label saying “Made in Australia” were made by an outworker in a backyard sweatshop, perhaps not far from where you live or work.
Many outworkers are paid below-award wages according to the Textiles, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) – often about $7 an hour and, in some cases, as little as $4, well below the legal minimum of $17.49 an hour wage for a machinist. And many will work 12- to 15-hour days, seven days a week to make ends meet, says TCFUA national secretary Michele O’Neil.
Such home-based work accounts for the majority of Australian garment manufacturing, spanning high-end fashion to school uniforms. Well-known brands flouting Australian labour laws are common, says O’Neil. “We find them every day.”
The sourcing network for garments is complicated: brands outsource to factories, which outsource yet again. A textile order can be passed down through three different contractors before ending up with an outworker. And knowledge of supply chains among brands and retailers is often poor, so outworkers are hidden at the bottom of the supply chain.
Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) works to combat the issue by providing ethical accreditation for Australian-made clothing. ECA accreditation guarantees that brands obey the law, which means all workers throughout the supply chain receive fair wages and decent working conditions. To receive accreditation, brands’ entire supply chains are mapped, including the hidden workforce, a process which often uncovers parts of the supply chain that even the brands weren't aware of.
One brand the TCFUA suspects is disregarding labour laws is Australian women’s fashion label, Morrison Clothing. Two outworkers in Morrison’s supply chain told CHOICE they get paid an average of about $8 an hour. They said they were paid $3-3.50 per shirt for a recent order, each taking about 30 minutes to make.
Elizabeth Macpherson, an organiser at the TCFUA, says the union is currently investigating the company and knows of about 20 outworkers in Morrison’s supply chain who aren’t receiving the correct wages.
Morrison director Richard Poulson said the allegation is “absolutely incorrect. I believe we pay well above what the award would be. We’re certainly not trying to strip margins. They [suppliers] quote – we pay them what they want.”
However, brands manufacturing in Australia are legally responsible for their entire supply chain so the amount that labels pay suppliers has to take into account how much it will cost to make the item of clothing using fairly paid labour.