brands to take 75 years to pay garment workers living wages

Research by the Fashion Council of Australia estimates that before the pandemic, Australians were buying an average of 56 new pieces of clothing a year. However, a good chunk of it is cheap, averaging just $6.50 per item.

Scenes of the army resuming operations after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Scenes of the army resuming operations after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.Credit: getty

Lisa Lake, director of the Center of Excellence for Sustainable Fashion and Textiles at UTS and TAFE NSW, said that while consumers had come a long way from awareness to action, “we cannot over-celebrate”. She agrees with others that there is too much pressure to get consumers, rather than brands, to do the right thing.

“Consumers can reconsider what they buy, but it shouldn’t be up to them to force these changes,” she said.

Sustainable fashion expert Clare Press says that while there are many complexities in raising worker wages, especially in so-called “low-cost producing countries” such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia, the fact that some fashion brands pay a living wage proves it is possible.

“Consumer awareness coupled with upcoming legislation is driving brands to make changes,” said Price, who hosts the Closet Crisis podcast. “When it comes to living wages, we need to ask a bigger question. Say 75 years is good, but it will take more time, and I don’t mean time, I mean institutional change.”


Last year, Australia followed the lead of many countries internationally by introducing the Modern Slavery Act, making brands take more responsibility for their supply chains. This year, New York is expected to introduce a Fashion Law, making it the first state in the US to require brands operating in the state to be accountable for their environmental and social impact.

RMIT lecturer Tamzin Rollason advocates for legislation to help balance the market, giving brands that do good a better chance of success. “Without a clear definition of what is sustainable, what is ethical, and there is no regulation and audit of those definitions, it will be very difficult for those companies to do the right thing.”

Since 2020, sisters Jess and Stef Dadon (not in report) of Melbourne-based footwear brand TWOOBS have overhauled their supply chain to work exclusively with suppliers who pay their workers a living wage, which is important to them and their important to customers. “After the pandemic, we’re seeing more and more people wanting to shop with their values,” says Stef.

While the shift to ultra-transparency has forced TWOOBS to slightly increase its average price, Dadons say their customers are supportive. Just like last week, a production error resulted in 3,000 pairs of sandals arriving slightly flawed. Rather than glossing over their problems, the sisters told customers the truth and offered the shoes at a 25% discount (typically, the brand never discounts them).

Some brands still believe “sometimes frighteningly true messages” can scare off customers, Jesse said. It’s not like this. “Our customers can deal with it, even though we’re not proud of the fact…that’s how we’re able to build trust — we’re not just telling them the good stuff.”

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