What Makes Your Clothing Ethically Made?

In business, the foundations of a brand are built on values that underpin everything that the brand or company sets out to do. When we started Ottie Merino, Paul and I wanted to make sure that values were something that we lived and breathed, not just stuck on the wall. We thought long and hard about what that looked like and did a fair amount of research on what we wanted to support in terms of our suppliers, what practices that included and how this tied back our values.  

We decided from the get-go that we wanted to ensure that the folks working on our garments were being paid correctly, safety was being addressed and that they understood their rights at work. That led us through making the decision to manufacture in Australia and support local manufacturing. 

That led to our Australian Made certification, and then onto ensuring that the people who were involved in making our garments, the trims, and all the other elements that come together to make a tee, undies, or thermals, were made with an ethical consideration around the treatment of those people. 

We reached out to Ethical Clothing Australia to find out more about their accreditation process and what was involved.  We did that because their program was based on clear accountability and auditing, rather than self-reporting (turns out not all schemes are created equal). We wanted to be held accountable and demonstrate that running a business this way isn’t too difficult and in fact should be the status quo.

It was a bit daunting initially, as we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Neither of us had been through an accreditation process like this before. The team at ECA took the time to talk to us, explain what was required and how they would ensure accountability, as well as providing us tools and resources. 

We got our accreditation in early 2021 and it’s something we are incredibly proud of. We stand by the view that all garment manufacturers and retail businesses should progress accreditation to ensure that workers throughout the supply chain are treated fairly, are safe at work and are not subjected to bad practice. 

So why are these accreditations important?

Often you will hear soundbites in the media about companies lauding a certification or attesting that their supply chains are free from serious issues like modern slavery. And later, those certifications quietly slip or a report is issued that demonstrates that those companies have modern slavery issues in their supply chains. Modern slavery encapsulates some significant issues and as a result, a lot of companies are trying to eliminate any potential for modern slavery in their supply chains.  

In the last year or so, efforts have increased because of legislation introduced to combat the issue, as well as increasing awareness around the ethical and moral obligation that companies ensure their supply chains do not feature modern slavery, but analogous issues as well. 

I sat down with Associate Professor Shelley Marshall, Director of the Business and Human Rights Centre at RMIT University to find out more about modern slavery – what is it exactly, is it happening in Australia and what should we be doing about it both as business and as consumers. 

Shelley is an expert in business and human rights, corporate accountability, and governance, recently publishing a report on her research around modern slavery. Check out our chat below (I certainly learnt a lot). 

 


Thanks to the amazing work of people like Shelley and many others, things are changing for the better. Awareness is the first step, and then understanding how business and us as consumers can be empowered to act is all key to addressing these issues. Having accreditation schemes that are independent and include audits, ensures that those participating are addressing and preventing practices that most of us would not be comfortable with, and enables standards to be set and monitored.

To find out a bit more about ECA, who they are, and what they do, I sat down for a brief chat with Jason Krowitz from ECA. Jason works in the accreditation space for Victoria, and works with businesses going through the accreditation process. Check out our chat below.



So who is making sure that businesses participating are doing the right thing?

In the case of the ECA accreditation, it’s a partnership between the ECA and the TCFU (Textiles, Clothing, Footwear Union). It’s the TCFU that inspects workplaces as part of audits, proactively supports the accreditation process, and provides a mechanism for worker voice (something we learnt was key to addressing modern slavery). 

I sat down with Beth Macpherson, the Division Senior Vice President and Victorian District Assistant Secretary and National Compliance Officer for the TCF to talk about how compliance works and the kinds of things that the TCF is working to address. 


 

Sometimes, brands will make claims about ethical production and Australian made and in the meantime, they have one product line made locally and ethically (ring any bells?), and they stop producing that line within 3-6 months, but they achieved the public relations and advertising outcomes they were looking for. 

Checking what brands are up to, requires customers to be savvy (Google is your friend here), and to keep brands accountable. Buying from an Ethical Clothing Australia accredited brand, supports local jobs and ensures a living wage, making our community better off overall. Something we can all agree is important. 

If you want to learn more about ECA, check what companies are accredited or just send them a friendly thank you for the work they are doing, you can check them out here. After all, it is ECA week, a celebration of everyone working towards ensuring standards in the textiles and garment sector in Australia.