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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 January 2016
NEWS 8 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 JANUARY 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Uncovering the real cost of the $2 polo Target and Kmart under fire for unethical trading MICHAEL SWEET The child models in the latest Target campaign for kids' school clothes might be beaming, but the price of the product they're promoting raises serious questions about our values as consumers and the actions of our major retailers. Kmart and Target have come under fire for selling $2 polo shirts while the Bangladeshi factory workers who make them are being paid below levels that cover basic living expenses. Kmart is also offering $5 button-up school shirts made in Bangladesh, while its $2 polos are made in China. The shirts, which are the focus of Target's ‘Back to School’ campaign, are produced in factories where a monthly income for an employee - based on the country's official minimum wage - can be as little as $97. Often unscrupulous factory owners pay even less. Meanwhile, the minimum monthly living wage in Bangladesh is estimated at $431. “It’s not possible to get to those price levels without exploiting someone.” This week Fairfax Media reported that the retail cost of the polos is less than the wholesale amount paid by Best and Less, which was heavily criticised in a 2015 Oxfam report for its lack of transparency. Founder of ethical clothing brand Etiko, Nick Savaidis, told Neos Kosmos he was "shocked" by the pricing, and that the $2 polos "are part of a global trend which pushes these workforces a lot harder”. "It's not possible to get to those price levels without exploiting someone," he said. Meanwhile, Target's general manager of corporate affairs, Kristene Reynolds, defended the company's record, saying Target was "proud of its ethical sourcing". "Supply chain transparency is key to improving our responsibility," she said. Target's ethical sourcing manager Carly Richards said the retailer had been working with the supplier of the $2 shirts since 2011 and that the factory did not raise concerns. "We do not put price before factory worker welfare," she said. "We measure factories against our code of conduct and undertake regular announced and unannounced audits." Ms Richards said Target was working with aid organisations to pay a living wage and developing a worker grievance program, where factory employees could lodge complaints if necessary with Target's head office. A spokeswoman for Kmart said it had volume agreements that allowed it to "provide prices as low as ethically possible for our customers without compromise to our suppliers and their workers". The new concern over cheap Australian clothing imports comes three years after Bangladesh's garment industry experienced the deaths of 1,127 workers during the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. Poor safety standards and dangerous factory management practices have dogged the Bangladesh clothing industry for decades, despite sales booming by 14 per cent last year. With about 5,000 garment factories employing more than four million people, wages in Bangladesh Target’s current advertising campaign. Bangladeshi garment worker Shima, a survivor of the Rana Plaza building collapse which killed more than 1,300 people in 2013. PHOTO: EPA/ABIR ABDULLAH. are some of the lowest in the world. Following the Rana Plaza disaster, Target and Kmart were some of the first companies to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, but their critics say the retailers are not doing enough to protect the rights of the workers who supply their products. Spokeswoman for Oxfam, Joy Kyriacou, said that while conditions had improved under the accord, the Bangladesh garment industry's mostly female workforce still faced precarious working conditions, with up to 12-hour days and safety procedures well below international standards. "The weekly minimum wage is less than what many Australians are paid an hour. We would like to see Australian companies move towards paying a decent wage." Nick Savaidis said the popularity of the $2 school polo shirts was ironic. "There isn't one school that doesn't talk about globalisation or have teachers that talk about social justice, and then they go and buy the cheapest school uniform they can," he said. Savaidis' message for Australian consumers was to be more discerning. "Buy less, buy better quali- ty, and look for garments that are certified as being ethically made. Shop according to your values. "It doesn't matter if it's a $2 polo shirt or $9 jeans, someone has to pay the price of us being able to buy these items so cheaply."
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