Rescue workers in the Rana Plaza factory after the collapse that killed 1129 workers. Photo: Reuters
Fashion giants Just Group and Best & Less are under fire for refusing to sign a legally binding pact that protects Bangladesh's garment workers, two years after the country's worst industrial accident.
The pair are the last of Australia's top 10 fashion companies to have resisted calls to join the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, developed by unions, non-profits and industry following the Rana Plaza factory collapse on April 24, 2013, that killed 1129 people.
Oxfam said the Just Group's decision to sign the comparatively weaker Alliance for Bangladesh Work Safety was "disappointing" and was now being targeted in its social media "heartbreakers" campaign.
"The Alliance is a lesser agreement that doesn't involve workers in the decision making process ... it leads you to think that it's because of the bottom line," said Oxfam's labour rights co-ordinator, Harvey Purse. "They're feeling the heat."
He praised Accord signatories Woolworths, Target and K-mart for divulging factory lists, saying while there was a long journey to achieving fully traceable supply chains, they were "in a race to the top".
The Baptist World Aid Fashion Report released last week showed a typical T-shirt made in a "nightmare" but realistic scenario could have child labour cotton from Uzbekistan that has been spun and woven into fabric by exploited teenage girls in India.
The report declared the Just Group, owner of Just Jeans, Portmans and Peter Alexander, Best & Less and Lowes, as the worst performers when it came to ethical and transparent supply chains.
Gershon Nimbalker, the aid group's advocacy manager, said it would just take an extra 30 cents per T-shirt to ensure Bangladeshi workers receive a fair living wage of $US104 a month. Right now, most receive about half that.
"An ethical product coming out of Bangladesh represents huge amounts of opportunity. The job opportunities, the investment and technology and potential tax revenue companies can bring can be transformational in allowing a country to lift millions of people out of poverty," he said.
The best performer was Etiko, Australia's first Fairtrade-certified fashion company. It sells up to 40,000 ethically made garments a year, with T-shirts priced between $25 and $30.
"We're not making huge margins, but we intentionally wanted to sell at the same price as equivalent quality garments. So those $5 T-shirts are sourced from questionable, probably sweatshop sources," said Etiko founder Nick Savaidis.
Despite some progress, the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, set up to compensate survivors and victims' families, is still $US6 million short of the $US30 million target, according to the United Nation's International Labor Organization.
"Instead of putting the slightest fraction of their profits towards the very people that suffered the most making their clothes, these brands choose to make ever more flimsy excuses," said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes campaign.
But consumer protest is set to sharply increase on Friday, with thousands of Fashion Revolution Day events set to take place in 71 countries, including documentary screenings, pop up markets and mass clothes swaps in Australia.
Fashion lovers are being urged to wear a piece of clothing inside out so the label shows and post a photograph on social media with the #whomademyclothes.
"There's a massive number of consumers wanting the answers. It's very much people on the ground putting on their own events, going to their retailers and asking them to tell them where their clothes are from," said Melinda Tually, who is overseeing Fashion Revolution Day in Australia.
A Just Group spokesperson said while the company had chosen the Alliance, it should be noted that the Alliance and Accord work closely together to achieve shared goals in improving fire safety and working conditions.
A Best & Less spokesperson said it was satisfied with its own ethical sourcing code, and, as a small company, did not feel the need to join the Accord that had large players and demanded big costs.
"We would rather take the matter into our own hands. We have the ability to manage our own supply chains very tightly, not only first hand, but with third party auditors," she said.