Fast fashion is everywhere. One second you’re browsing an online store for some new shoes; a minute later, those same exact shoes are staring you in the face in an ad on your Facebook.
Kind of rude. Pretty creepy. Basically inescapable.
But do you really know – or bother to check – where your cheap threads are coming from? Or do you just *add to cart* without really thinking?
More fashion retailers in Australia are embracing transparency than ever before, but some companies are still failing to disclose the location of their factories – according to Oxfam’s annual “naughty and nice” list of retailers.
Cotton On, Big W and GAP were given kudos for recently revealing the factories where their clothes are made; Topshop, Uniqlo and The Just Group have remained on the “naughty” list.
Why transparency is important
In 2013, a building collapse that killed over 1100 people in Bangladesh served as a “wake up call” to the global fashion world – revealing an industry in tatters.
It sparked awareness among consumers, and saw hundreds of companies sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh – a five year legally binding agreement to build a safe garment industry in Bangladesh.
Oxfam says that wake up call has been effective in shaking up the industry, but thinks there’s still plenty of retailers out there who are slacking off.
“Unless a company publishes the locations of its factories, there is still no way of checking if their clothing is being made under safe and fair conditions.
“And, workers can’t easily raise problems and get them fixed. There’s no other way out of the Naughty List.”
Why don’t brands say where their clothes are made?
Brands often have excuses for not publishing the location of their factories, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke told Hack.
“The reasons that they give us – are often along the lines of, ‘if we publish where our factories are, then people can go and steal our styles and ideas’.
“If everyone publishes where their factories are, it puts everyone on a level playing field. So that excuse can’t be given. We think that reason is rather thin.”
But Dr Szoke says you shouldn’t just boycott brands on the “naughty” list as protest. Rather, consumers should be more proactive and write to their favourite brands.
“We don’t want consumers boycotting brands on the “naughty” list. We want all of these retailers to improve these practices, so workers in Bangladesh have their rights protected.
“Instead, [consumers should] ask their favourite brand to publish where their factories are.There is nothing more powerful than consumer sentiment.”
Some of the retailers on the “naughty” list come with caveats – ASOS is on there for now, but “promises to publish” their factory locations soon, for example.
You can check out Oxfam’s full report card on each retailer in the list over here.
Oxfam’s list isn’t the only one shining a light on the ethics of the fashion industry.
There’s a bunch of resources out there with the same goal – like Good On You, an Australian app which assesses brands’ environmental impact, labour conditions, and animal treatment.
Baptist World Aid’s Behind The Barcode also has initiatives to end worker exploitation in the industry; they also have guides into ethical fashion and ethical electronics in Australia.
Meanwhile, Fashion Revolution’s social media campaigns and events reveal the faces behind the garment industry around the world, encouraging people to ask, #WhoMadeMyClothes?
Editor’s note: a previous version of this story incorrectly published the number of casualties at the Rana Plaza factory complex in 2013, and also referred to the incident as a factory fire, rather than a building collapse. This story has been updated to reflect this.
Author Ange McCormack