As smart consumers, it is our job to ensure those who make our way of life possible are taken care of. Over the years, we've become aware just how precarious the supply chain is, especially down at the manufacturing level. Shoppers want to be able to get the most for their money, and manufacturers want to spend as little as possible while producing as much as they can. While this seems good for the system as a whole, it's actually a very dangerous state of affairs. Sure, the goods on sale are available for a deal and the tag says "Made in" somewhere else, not that it really matters to us.
The problem is that it should matter to us. As smart consumers, it is our job to ensure those who make our way of life possible are taken care of. If our clothes or other material possessions are cheap to come by, that means the men, women and children stitching our garments are most likely making pennies of the sale price. It is our duty as free citizens to make sure that everyone is being properly compensated and working in ethical and safe conditions. Unfortunately, many Australian companies have recently come into the public eye for their non-humanitarian manufacturing practices.
According to a recent report by the international aid group Baptist World Aid Australia, there are some fashion brands down under that are seriously performing far under the bar of excellence. While, of course, it does make sense that companies should want to cut costs and corners where they can, this should never be at the expense of other people's well-being.
The report asserted that 91 percent of clothing manufacturing companies are not aware of where and how their cotton is sourced. There are agencies in place around the world to ensure the safety of individuals in the supply chain, making sure they are paid fairly and treated well. The Guardian disclosed that the fashion report found only 9 percent of companies that paid their outsourced workers a livable wage.
This report comes on the heels of the two-year anniversary of the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh. More than 1,100 innocent workers lost their lives due to the neglect and mistreatment of those people in the supply chain. While many companies worldwide have altered their practices to ensure humane management of valued employees, there are still clothing factories in Australia that are guilty of poor sourcing and worker exploitation.
Our future duty
Not only does the report reveal disappointing statistics and facts, it also brings into question our responsibility as members of the supply chain. Shouldn't procurement services make sure that workers who provide the products in question are treated just as well as anyone else in the supply chain? The answer is yes, it is entirely unethical to keep the those people in the dark and below the poverty line, as there would be no industry without them.
For consumers, procurers, managers, manufacturers, etc., it's important to make sure that all links in the chain are strong. There needs to be clear visibility from top to bottom, and severe repercussions must be meted out for those who choose not to adhere to the proper standards. Reputations are not the only thing at stake - the well-being of tens of thousands of workers worldwide also hangs in the balance.
Fashion labels should source and produce their materials ethically, with no exceptions. Regular and surprise audits are a good first step toward encouraging responsibly procured materials and work conditions, but the journey is far from over. Labels need to step up and take responsibility for their actions to make the world a better place for everyone.