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Issue # 1404      25 March 2009

Chesty Bonds moves to sweatshops?

Oxfam is calling on Pacific Brands and other major Australian clothing companies to take more responsibility for the rights of the overseas workers who make their goods. This follows this week’s release of a report that found a Hong Kong-based company that coordinates the manufacture of some Pacific Brands products rates poorly on efforts to eradicate sweatshops.

The Oxfam report, “Transparency Report 2: Have Hong Kong Garment Companies Improved their Reporting on Labour Standards?”, researches 26 major Hong Kong-based suppliers and clothing companies, rating these companies on how open and clear they are in reporting on the wages and conditions of the workers producing their goods.

The report also gave low ratings to Giordano, Esprit, Bossini and Chickeeduck, which are sold in Australia. The scores are significantly lower than those obtained by a study of Canadian companies using the same methodology.

Oxfam Labour Rights Advocacy Coordinator Tim Connor said more and more Australian clothing retailers were contracting another company to coordinate all aspects of production – from sourcing of materials to manufacture and transport.

Hong Kong based Li & Fung Ltd provides this coordination service to Pacific Brands for their Sheridan products and other Australian clothing companies including Just Jeans.

Dr Connor said that by relying on Li & Fung to take care of production, companies also were relying on Li & Fung to take care of labour rights concerns.

“Li & Fung has a code of conduct, and claims to monitor factory suppliers’ performance against that code,” Mr Connor said.

“But Li & Fung refuses to release information about the way that monitoring is done, whether any labour violations are found, and whether any steps are taken to correct problems. Li & Fung also keeps secret the names and addresses of all its supplier factories, which makes it impossible for an external organisation to verify workers’ conditions.

“If Australian companies are serious about labour rights, they should require their foreign suppliers to be much more transparent.

“Pacific Brands and Just Jeans have made important improvements to labour conditions for the minority of their production which occurs in Australia; it’s time they got serious about labour rights for the majority of their production which takes place overseas.”

“With Pacific Brands now moving jobs off-shore, we will be watching closely to see if it chooses Li & Fung to manage production of Bonds and other brands.”

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