Monday, February 16, 2009

Australian fashion ethics to improve?

I now have a better idea of which Australian fashion brands I'm happy to support and which I'll actively avoid.

An Australian government review of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear industries has set out fifteen recommendations for long-term improvement. The review, called Building Innovative Capability, is a heavy read, probably not ideal for late night browsing. But I steamed ahead anyway. (By that I mean I read the recommendations and ignored/skimmed the other 142 pages.)

A few of the recommendations address ethics in the fashion industry. The one I found most promising was the one that suggests a new Australian Ethical Quality Mark, which would set standards for labour conditions, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. Another is to provide better protection for Australian homeworkers.

The review is currently getting submission responses from stakeholders in the Textile, Clothing and Footwear industries. Reading some of them (here) has put me off certain brands (though really, I no longer shop for women's clothing at any chain store).

The Just Group (Portmans, peteralexander, Jacqui E, Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Dotti) wrote, "We own the fabric and control the production process through a range of registered suppliers and believe that the general, unquantifiable proposals put forward in the Green Report will greatly reduce our confidence in effective Government assistance to local manufacture in the Australian clothing industry."

They also wrote, "Improved processes, supplier collaboration and the adoption of technology will see a traditional manual supply chain transform into a competitive, efficient and effective quick response supply chain." (source)

"Quick response supply chain"? Right. Fast fashion is not a good. I'd also like to know what their local manufacturing involves, and I have an inkling. You might interpret these quotes differently, but I don't trust their vagueness. In any case, they made no mention of agreeing with the proposed ethical standards.

I'm not sure what to make of the Pacific Brands submission (Bonds, Berlei, Dunlop, Grosby, Hard Yakka, Hush Puppies, Mossimo, Rio, Sleepmaker, Slazenger) in terms of ethics. They wrote about their disappointment with other parts of the review, but didn't mention the ethical items. (source)

A pleasant surprise was the Target submission, which said that they recommend "the development of a new Australian Ethical Quality Mark," and that they "strongly recommend that the introduction of such a mark would be globally aligned and not specific to Australian standards. If this was not the case, given the globalisation of the manufacturing industry, it would be meaningless." (source)

This is the case of high-end footwear label, Anna Fiori: "...although we are known Australia wide as leading manufacturers this alone cannot help us to compete with the onslaught of Asian imports (namely china). Although the product we produce is undoubtedly better quality than our cheaper imports we cannot offer retailers the big margins they can achieve by buying and selling the Asian import. Infact to quote one retailer 'if all the customer can buy is the Chinese import then we can sell it at any price.'" (source)

Disheartening. I truly hope that the proposed ethical standards goes ahead, that they are policed well and that there are adequate consequences for failing to comply.


Stepstotheleft said...

Target make a very valid point in saying that those standards would be meaningless if they were not international. They are possibly also aware that it would be nearly impossible (or certainly a lot more hard work than anyone is willing to put in) to implement those standards internationally which would possibly mean they would be implemented nowhere. Then they wouldn't have to abide by them.

Heidi and Seek said...

That's such a good point. I didn't think about that.

So I'm back at square one with zero faith in chain stores.

Stepstotheleft said...

I may have been wearing my cynical hat when I commented last night. But I guess I've just gotten to the stage where big business claiming to have a conscious seems too good to be true.

Natalia said...

Interesting reading! I'm actually halfway through "Fast Food Nation"; our governments condone fast food, fashion, and nearly everything else. Disheartened is not nearly strong enough a word for this! The thing that keeps me going, is the fact that the general public are slowly responding to handmade - slowly, slowly. It's on the way!

JulieG said...

Very disappointing, although not surprising, news. Thanks for reading through the report summary - it's the sort of thing I know I ought to do, but never get around to!

hayley said...

Steps - Yes, I agree with you. Regardless of what any of them say, I'd rather not trust them because it's so easy to lie and not follow through.. or just divert attention away from some other unethical issue of theirs.

Natalia - That's on my to-read list, too. Fast everything equals profit, but at what cost? Here's to hoping governments take more steps in the right direction.

JulieG - I'm glad to spread the word. I'm not normally a government document reading sort, but this one caught my attention so I ploughed through it.