Social Justice Taskforce Monthly Bytes

Take on social justice in bite-sized chunks

Welcome to another edition of “Monthly Byte” prepared by the Tasmanian Baptist Social Justice Taskforce.

Each month there will be a “byte” addressing a critical social justice issue in our society.

In October, our focus is on Worker Exploitation in Garment Industry.  Here is some information from Baptist World Aid Australia on the current situation in a COVID-19 era.

First some facts: Worker Exploitation in the Garment Industry

Every piece of clothing you own was made by someone. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the people who make your clothes are experiencing new and unprecedented risks.

Infection, shortages of PPE and health care, along with a rapidly changing global fashion industry have devastated garment workers.  They are now even more vulnerable to unsafe working conditions, forced labour, child labour and human exploitation.

Each year, Baptist World Aid Australia prepares the Annual Ethical Fashion Report which highlights the current situation on worker exploitation in the Fashion Industry.  The companion to this is the Ethical Fashion Guide which ranks producers on their performance.  Fashion brands are assessed based on their efforts undertaken to mitigate the risks of forced labour, child labour and worker exploitation in their supply chains. They are awarded a grading (from F for a fail, to A+ for optimal ethical conditions) and assessed under four categories: policies, traceability and transparency, auditing and supplier relationship, and worker empowerment.

The pandemic edition of the Annual Ethical Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid, reveals that more than 70% of companies assessed in 2020 could demonstrate that they had taken at least some deliberate positive actions to support vulnerable garment workers through the global pandemic. 

However, despite these positive results, the crisis has also exposed the areas still needing vast improvement in the fashion industry, with no companies assessed in the report being able to demonstrate an end-to-end supply chain response to the impact of the pandemic.

The COVID Fashion Report highlights the extent to which more than 400 well-known brands worked to address the immediate risks facing workers in global fashion supply chains. Top scorers in 2020 were the brands that could demonstrate action across all 6 COVID Fashion Commitments, which include:

·       Support workers’ wages by honouring supplier commitments 

·       Identify and support the workers at greatest risk 

·       Listen to the voices and experience of workers 

·       Ensure workers’ rights and safety are respected 

·       Collaborate with other to protect vulnerable workers 

·       Build back better for workers and the world 

Unfortunately, most companies (56%) were unable to evidence actions in all 6 areas of the COVID Fashion Commitments. However, a range of A/NZ brands, such as Country Road, Glassons, Retail Apparel Group (Tarocash, yd. Connor), and Kathmandu, were recognised as 2020 top scorers in the report, alongside a number of international brands such as Patagonia, The Iconic and UNIQLO.

The early months of 2020 saw 50 million garment workers lose wages, totalling to $5.79 billion USD, as the economic impacts of COVID-19 caused Australian retail foot traffic to fall by 71%. As clothing sales plummeted, fashion companies were forced to furlough staff and temporarily shut stores.

More than half of garment manufacturers in Bangladesh reported in March that the majority of their in-progress or completed production had been cancelled by major fashion brands. By May, over 30% of Bangladeshi garment workers reported their children had gone without food.

Worker voice systems including grievance mechanisms and worker unions were found to be the largest industry-wide weakness within the report, as only 15% of companies surveyed provided evidence of strong and effective grievance mechanisms being present in their factories throughout the pandemic. 

Despite this, the report does indicate brands shifting focus with 22% of companies identifying strengthening worker voice systems as a key priority moving forward, and 16% of companies reported piloting or implementing new systems through the crisis period.

BWAA CEO John Hickey said, “fashion companies have been literally fighting for survival in 2020. But the wellbeing of the workers who produce the garments they sell must still be considered a core priority. Survival is critical, but it should not be achieved on the backs of their most vulnerable workers.”

“The pandemic has impacted the fashion industry at great scale, with the potential of reversing a decade worth of progress made in improving the rights and conditions of garment workers across the globe. This special edition of our annual report aims to acknowledge the brands committing to stand with the workers during the crisis and motivate others to do the same.”

Research commissioned by BWAA prior to the COVID outbreak found that more than 80% of Australian consumers believe fashion companies have an ethical responsibility for the workers in their supply chains.

Director of Advocacy at BWAA Peter Keegan said, “it’s important that Australian consumers know the choices they make in store or online have the power to pass on opportunity and dignity to workers, and sustainability to our world.”

But, he says, challenges remain. “Embedding a vision and practice in the fashion world that treats all workers – regardless of where they work in the supply chain – with dignity and respect, is critical.”

“It is key not only to the immediate COVID-19 response but also to the development of an industry made up of companies that are both good businesses and businesses that are good.”


Here is a sample of short videos that could be used in services or small groups. Alternatively the link could be distributed throughout your church via email, to be watched at home.

People over Pricetag. Watch HERE or view below:

Fighting Fast Fashion. Watch HERE or view below:

The Table (Gershon Nimbalker) . Watch HERE or view below:

Citywide Baptist (Matt Garvin) . Watch HERE or view below:

Action:  so what can we do?

Love without action is not love at all. 1 John 3:18.

Pray: for an end to the exploitation of workers across the world, particularly at this crucial time in global history.

Learn: Order you COVID Fashion Report and 2020 Ethical Fashion Guide HERE

Buy:  Take your guide with you when you shop and use your consumer power!

Some Prayers . . .

Lord God, Master of the Vineyard,

How wonderful that you have invited us who labour by the sweat of our brow to be workers in the vineyard and assist your work to shape the world around us.

As we seek to respond to this call, make us attentive to those who seek work but cannot find it.

Help us listen to the struggles of those who work hard to provide for their families but still have trouble making ends meet.

Open our eyes to the struggles of those exploited and help us speak for just wages and safe conditions, the freedom to organize, and time for renewal.

For work was made for humankind and not humankind for work. Let it not be a vehicle for exploitation but a radiant expression of our human dignity.

Give all who labour listening hearts that we may pause from our work to receive your gift of rest.

Fill us with your Holy Spirit that you might work through us to let your justice reign.