The Fashion Supply Chain

When we see an item on a rack that we like, we often glance at the price. This heavily influences our decision to purchase an item or not. Obviously if the item we like seems inexpensive – a bargain – we are excited and rush to try it on. Unfortunately if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. To produce that garment, chances are someone along the supply chain is being mistreated.

Supply chains are the sequence of processes involved in the production and distribution of a commodity. In the fashion industry, there is little publication around whether garments are produced ethically or not. Ethical breaches include the employment of child labour, underpaid workers, excessive work hours, employee abuse and production that is extensively damaging to the environment.

Garment manufacturing in Australia is predominantly structured around outsourcing, with sewing commonly performed by migrant women. As Australian garment manufacturing has moved offshore, there’s been a shift in responsibility. A longer supply chain means brands may not know about safety issues and poor working conditions.

Manufacturing companies in Australia often identify the pressure of cheap imports from low-wage countries, compared with the cost of goods made in Australia, as one of the main reasons for manufacturing offshore. Many businesses feel it is difficult to grow their business unless they move at least some manufacturing offshore.

Ethical clothing campaigners are adamant companies should be responsible for their entire supply chain. They say poor working conditions are a result of companies sourcing practices that put pressure on suppliers to cut prices further down the line.

A recent report into clothing supply chains, the Australian Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid found that 61% of companies didn’t know where their garments were made, 76% didn’t know where their fabric was woven, knitted or dyed and 93% didn’t know the origins of the raw fibre.

To counter this, consumers should attempt to shop from companies and brands that are ethically accredited. Ethical Clothing Australia has an extensive list of Australian clothing producers whom they have awarded accreditation to. ECA accreditation guarantees that brands obey the law. All workers throughout the supply chain receive fair wages and decent working conditions. To determine this, brands’ entire supply chains are mapped, including the hidden workforce. This process often uncovers parts of the supply chain that even the brands aren’t aware of.

Examples of accredited Australian Brands include Carla Zampatti, Foolsandtrolls, Jeanswest, RM Williams, Thurley, Veronika Maine and Hard Yakka.

It is important that we, as consumers, remember that our dollar votes do count and we can make a difference if we cast them wisely.

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