Kmart Australia has promised to reveal the locations of all of the factories that make its clothes, becoming the first major Australian chain to pledge complete transparency of its once secretive clothing supply network.
The global garment trade has come under intense scrutiny following the collapse in April of Rana Plaza, a nine-storey, illegally-built garment sweatshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh that was making clothes for the US and Europe. More than 1100 people died in the collapse, with some 2500 injured.
We really need to see a number of retailers lift their game.
Last month, Fairfax Media, ABC's Four Corners and Channel Nine's 60 Minutes ran investigative pieces looking into the human cost of western clothes in Bangladesh.
In the aftermath of the building collapse, Australian consumer groups, NGOs and trade unions have demanded the country's major retailers reveal the locations and street addresses of their factories around the world, so they can be independently inspected.
Companies have resisted, saying it would be commercially disadvantageous. But an Oxfam Australia spokeswoman said that several years ago, under significant community pressure, global giants Puma, Adidas and Nike publicly declared their factory locations, with no apparent commercial impact.
Bangladesh's massive, but poorly regulated garment manufacturing industry has come under particular scrutiny, but China, India, and Cambodia also make millions of dollars in clothes for Australia every year.
"We don't think that companies' own auditing practices are enough to ensure that workers are really receiving decent conditions ... we really need to see a number of retailers lift their game," Oxfam's labour rights advocacy co-ordinator, Daisy Gardener, said.
A Fairfax investigation last month revealed the location of one of KMart's supplier's factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Stitchwell Design's Tejgaon factory had passed safety audits, but workers there said they still feared workplace accidents. They said they were poorly paid and were often forced to work overtime.
Forhad Mia, a shirt stitcher, said there were only two staircases out of the factory.
“If there is a fire or an accident, there is not enough room to evacuate, it is difficult to come out,” he said.
He earns about $65 a month working 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. Most of his money goes on rent for a tiny, single room he shares with his wife in a slum neighbouring the factory.
“It [the salary] is too low, we cannot have a humane life. There are many things we cannot have,” Forhad told Fairfax Media.
“I heard that they are selling the clothes at very high price and they are paying us very low salary.”
Local retailers Best & Less, Rivers, Just Jeans, and Katies have still failed to sign the "Bangladesh Accord", a legally binding agreement to protect garment workers in Bangladesh and improve building standards in the country's beleaguered garment industry.
Big W has maintained its "intention" is to sign the accord once there are more details on its implementation.
This week, a consortium of 70 global retailers that did sign the accord, including Kmart, Forever New, Cotton On and Target, agreed to inspect their supplier's Bangladeshi factories in the next nine months.
For the first time, emergency repairs and serious safety problems will be completed immediately using money from joint investments, direct payment, negotiated commercial terms or government or donor support.
Under the plan, factory data from all company signatories and details about each building will be collected next week, and will become publicly available.
Companies such as Best & Less, which has 15 factories in Bangladesh and has not signed the accord, say they have their own ethical sourcing codes.