Australian Retailers Sign Ethical Clothing Code of Practice
On 18th September at NSW Parliament House the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) and the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union (TCF Union) signed a new Retailer Code, committing retailers to taking a more active role in efforts to stop the exploitation of outworkers.
The Retailers Ethical Clothing Code of Practice is a new tool for tracing this invisible workforce from the top of the contracting chain down, and requires retailers to take action when exploitation is uncovered in this process. The new Code will mean retailers will give the TCF Union access to some of their commercial records related to clothing industry suppliers and contracts.
Fair Wear has been represented on the NSW Ethical Clothing Trades Council, which has provided the impetus and backdrop for negotiation of the new Retailer Code. While negotiated in NSW the Code has national application from 8th October when it was signed by the national bodies or the AWA and TCF Union.
Fair Wear will promote individual retailers which sign up to the national Retailer Ethical Clothing Code with the TCF Union. We eagerly await confirmation that retailers have signed, and will inform Fair Wear supporters immediately.
Two years ago, Fair Wear ceased to promote companies that had signed the Homeworkers Code of Practice but not taken further pro-active steps. The Homeworkers Code of Practice Committee had called on all signatory companies to become accredited, with almost no response. Fair Wear wrote to retailers saying they were failing to live up to the spirit of what they had signed. Fair Wear recognised at the time that the retailer section of the Homeworkers Code of Practice was simply not working.
The new Retailer Ethical Clothing Code will replace this ineffectual Retailers' section of the Homeworkers' Code of Practice. The manufacturer's section of the Homeworkers' Code of Practice remains, with the standards manual and No Sweat Shop label from the Homeworkers' Code recognised in the new Code.
Signature to the new Retailer Code does not guarantee every garment has been made without exploitation, but does indicate the retailer's co-operation with the union in providing the commercial records necessary for the union to effectively police compliance with the clothing award within their contracting chains.
Key elements of the Code include:
1. Retailers will provide the union with their full list of clothing suppliers within 14 days of signing the Code and then every 6 months.
2. On request the union can access details of retailer's individual contracts including turn around times for orders, the number of garments in the contract, a sample of the garment and in some cases the price paid for the contract.
3. Retailers will undertake to end contracts where exploitation is proven, and the problem not addressed by the supplier.
4. If a supplier to a retailer fails to fulfil their obligations under the award, eg to provide the union with lists of their contractors, this is also included in the definition of exploitation and can constitute a reason for a retailer to end a contract with a supplier.
5. Recognition of the Homeworkers Code of Practice Standards Manual for calculation of fair piece rates for outworkers working unsupervised at home.
6. Recognition of the No Sweat Shop label with retailers undertaking not to discourage display of the label. (Fair Wear would have preferred a commitment to encouraging the label, but this was not forthcoming.)
What follows is text of the speech given by Barry Tubner (TCFUA) at the official signing:
Six years ago, some more ethical retailers such as Target entered into agreements with our union. Agreements such as the Target Deed of Co-operation set the standard for practical retailer solutions to the moral blight of outworker exploitation. These agreements provided "a transparent process of scrutiny so as to ensure proper standards are met for outworkers".
More than three years ago, Her Honour Justice Leonie Glynn of the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission delivered her report to the Minister about the scandalous plight of outworkers in this State. Following one of the most thoroughly researched inquiries into this scandal, Justice Glynn's conclusions and findings left no room for any doubt or complacency.
In her conclusions about appropriate retailer codes of conduct, she stated clearly as follows: "If all relevant participants do not sign, then consideration should be given to making the code mandatory".
Her words ring just as loudly today as the day when they were first published. The code of conduct which we are signing today is just the first step towards one of her key recommendations. We see it as a real step in the right direction and hope that all retailers now take the next step and sign on to individual agreements which mirror today's agreement.
If they fail to do so, there can be no reasonable alternative to Her Honour's call for a mandatory retailer code. The time to act is now - not later. The Ethical Clothing Trades Council has a tight deadline for dealing with this issue.
Less than four (4) months ago, the New South Wales State Government officially launched its "Behind The Label" strategy to protect clothing outworkers from exploitation.
In just over four (4) months time, the Council will be required to advise the Minister about the desirability and content of a mandatory retailer code.
Delay is no longer an option. The adoption of a satisfactory regime of retailer obligations now lies in the hands of the retailers themselves. The Council can now move swiftly to implement Justice Glynn's specific recommendations, such as her call for "a special statutory regime to relate to outworkers" including the amendment of "the right of entry provisions.to allow the TCFUA rights of access without notice in all circumstances concerning outworkers".
I'd like to thank everyone responsible for contributing to the delivery of this newborn Ethical Clothing Code of Conduct.
I must thank the New South Wales State Government and the Minister for Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca, in particular for seizing the initiative in tackling this scandal of exploitation. I'd like to publicly recognise the role played by the members and Chairperson, Joe Riordan, of the Ethical Clothing Trades Council who resolutely drove the process of negotiation forward to its successful conclusion. Not least among their number was the FairWear Organisation in New South Wales, that "conscience of the consumer" which is so ably represented on the Council by Debbie Carstens. Finally, I'd like to publicly thank the unions Chief Advocate and my fellow Council member, Igor Nossar, for working so long and hard with me to draft and negotiate this world leading retailer code.
Enough congratulations. Let us seize the time and move forward to achieve the vital next steps in this fight against the exploitation of outworkers."
Fair Wear and the TCF Union can be congratulated for the role we have played in maintaining the pressure on retailers and government that has brought about this significant victory for outworkers. We look forward to the implementation of the Retailer Code and Deed undertakings bringing about real change for outworkers.
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