Best&Less has been named among several other big-name fashion retailers in Australia that scored low on a new Oxfam report exposing labour practices.
Major brands have been accused of adopting aggressive price negotiation tactics, inaccurately forecasting orders, imposing short lead times and making last-minute changes to orders, which contributed to trapping workers in a cycle of poverty.
Bangladeshi factories that Best&Less, Big W, Kmart, Cotton On, Myer, The Just Group and Mosaic Brands, sourced their clothing from scored low out of four for their commitment to paying a living wage, the Shopping for a Bargain report, released on Wednesday, revealed.
Yet Best&Less gave itself a rating of four out of four for paying workers enough to afford a decent standard of living – the biggest discrepancy between the self-rating of the brand and the factory rating.
Myer, The Just Group, Inditex (Zara) and Mosaic Brands (Noni B) were the least transparent when publishing and regularly updating their website with the names and addresses of at least 70 per cent of its supplier factories, or 80 per cent of the total value of its supply chain.
Mosaic Brands head of compliance, Nic Williams, rejected the findings of the report.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
A team of researchers from Oxfam, Monash University, and Bangladesh conducted more than 150 surveys and 22 interviews for the investigation.
They developed two sets of ratings for each retailer from the surveys – the rating the business gave itself, and the rating factories in Bangladesh gave it.
The H&M Group scored highest with 3 out of 4 based on factory feedback. Close behind were Big W, Kmart and Target Australia, with 2.5 out of 4.
The Just Group and Mosaic Brands scored 1.5.
Oxfam says H&M’s high ranking shows that higher prices don’t necessarily mean clothes have been produced sustainably and ethically.
Only half of the brands approached by Oxfam responded to the survey.
Of those that did, the biggest disparity between the way a brand scored itself and the way factories did was for Best & Less — which rated itself a 3.5, compared to the 2 given by factories.
The report is an unprecedented look at how big brands’ business practices affect wages and conditions for the workers who make Australians’ clothes.
“The research reveals unfair purchasing practices are pressuring factories into adopting poor working conditions and paying unacceptably low wages,” Oxfam Australia’s chief executive Lyn Morgain said in a statement.
“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,” she said.
“Instead, wages are trapping workers – mainly women – and their families in a cycle of poverty.”
All of the factories approached by Oxfam said that, despite brand claims to the contrary, brands will always terminate relationships with factories or switch factories if a factory cannot meet a lower price demand.
Seventy per cent of factories said that to deliver orders that exceeded company forecasts on time, they gave workers steep production targets and required them to work excessive overtime.
And 40 per cent agreed that they had accepted orders at prices below what it cost them to produce clothes safely and ethically.
The companies included in the report were Best & Less, Big W, Cotton On, H&M Group, Inditex (Zara), The Just Group, Kmart, Myer, Mosaic Brands and Target Australia. All make their clothes in Bangladesh.
Oxfam wants brands to stick to responsible purchasing policies and to negotiate in a way that accommodates labour costs.