Some of the fast fashion brands in Australia have been accused of patronizing systemic inequality by purchasing clothing from factories where workers are paid poorly and forced to work long hours.
A new Oxfam research found that of the major retailers in Australia, H&M was deemed to be the most equitable with its suppliers while Mosaic Brands – owner of Katies, Rivers and Crossroad – was deemed to be the worst, 9News reported.
It also found that retailers were accused of aggressively negotiating prices, providing short lead times and making last-minute changes to orders that directly impacted factory workers' lives.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said the research shows cut-throat pricing in the Australian market has real implications for those making the clothes thousands of kilometres away.
"The research reveals unfair purchasing practices are pressuring factories into adopting poor working conditions and paying unacceptably low wages," Ms Morgain said.
"It found that these poor purchasing practices of brands are making it impossible for factories to increase wages, despite many of the same brands making public commitments to ensure the payment of living wages.
"Instead, wages are trapping workers - mainly women - and their families in a cycle of poverty."
The report, titled "Shopping for a Bargain", ranked 10 fashion retailers in Australia including Best&Less, Big W, Cotton On, H&M, Inditex (Zara), The Just Group, Kmart, Myer, Mosaic Brands and Target.
All of the above retailers source their clothing from Bangladesh, who Oxfam approach to grade the retailers on how fair they were with their pricing, as well as their willingness to negotiate.
Ranking in a four-star system, the Bangladeshi factories scored H&M the highest with 3 out of 4, followed by Big W, Kmart and Target who all scored 2.5 out of 4.
Cotton On, Zara and Myer and Best&Less received 2 out of 4, while The Just Group and Mosaic Brands scored just 1.5 out of 4.
The Oxfam report notes that The Just Group, Myer, Cotton On and Zara all declined to participate in the survey, as did Mosaic Brands.
This means their overall score out of four was simply that given to them by the factories.
More than 150 surveys were completed and 22 in-depth interviews completed with factory owners, supervisors, workers and union leaders.
Ms Morgain said more fashion brands needed to make public commitments that they would pay supplying factories a fair price for goods, to give workers a liveable wage.
"Brands that are lagging behind need to take the step of making a public, credible commitment to living wages," Ms Morgain said.
"With just one month today until Christmas, shoppers should demand big brands end this cycle and do better in the way they do business - in turn giving real meaning to their commitments to end poverty wages for the women making our clothes."
Several businesses replied to 9News.com.au's requests for comment. You can read these below:
"We are pleased that Oxfam's Australia's Shopping for a Bargain report released today recognises the progress BIG W has made in the last 12 months in improving our responsible purchasing practices, and doing the right thing by our suppliers through Covid-19," a spokesperson said.
"Now a member of Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT), a coalition of brands, retailers and unions working together to address living wages in Bangladesh, BIG W is committed to ongoing work in safeguarding the rights of garment workers in our global supply chains.
"Whilst we acknowledge we have made good progress, we still have more work to do to safeguard the rights of garment workers in our global supply chains."
"We welcome independent scrutiny of our supplier relationships and we support the work by a range of NGO's to champion the importance of ethical supplier production chains within the fashion industry," said Head of Compliance Nic Williams.
"Regrettably despite agreeing to participate in this report 10 months ago we were then only contacted by the researchers earlier this month with the claims contained in a embargoed report.
"Mosaic brands requires independent and valid audits of all our factory suppliers. Audit requirements that align with our commitments to the ETI Basecode, which includes employment practices, working conditions, and wages and many other factors. This is also outlined in our annual report and in CEO Scott Evans most recent AGM speech.
"We did not refuse to participate in this report and actively reached out to researchers offering to provide the information we could within the bounds of our commercial relationships.
"We are disappointed a report that appears to be based on limited or flawed data does not provide an accurate picture of how Australian retailers are operating in Bangladesh.
"Although Bangladesh is one of our smallest sourcing markets, the report does not state how many Mosaic suppliers were interviewed and does not reflect the extensive safety and wage auditing processes we have in place in Bangladesh and globally."