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Ethical Clothing Australia Advocates for Worker Protections at Modern Slavery Committee Inquiry

By 27 June 2024Advocacy

Ethical Clothing Australia Advocates for Worker Protections at Modern Slavery Committee Inquiry

On 7 June, Ethical Clothing Australia’s National Manager, Rachel Reilly, gave evidence to the Modern Slavery Committee Inquiry into the New South Wales Ethical Clothing Extended Responsibilities Scheme 2005. 

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The Scheme was created to establish a mandatory regulation level to prevent the exploitation of outworkers, with a focus on retailers. However, the Scheme was never fully operationalised, so the Modern Slavery Committee Inquiry is currently exploring whether it should be reinstated. 

The Committee heard a strong recommendation that focused on enhancing protections for workers in the Textile, Clothing & Footwear industry. Ms Reilly recommended maintaining and operationalising the Scheme and encouraged more New South Wales-based textile, clothing, and footwear (TCF) businesses to join Ethical Clothing Australia’s accreditation program.  

Ms Reilly outlined that there are inherent risk factors prevalent to the business model of the TCF industry due to the invisibility and vulnerable position of outworkers (individuals who manufacture clothing from their home or another place that isn’t a factory) in the supply chain. She explained that many homeworkers are often women from migrant backgrounds, wtih English as an additional language, who may lack an understanding of their rights as Australian workers.  

“If we work on the assumption that modern slavery results from the failure of our systems to identify vulnerability and to prevent and remedy exploitation, then I do firmly believe that the existence of the Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation program was born out of recognising these vulnerabilities and creating a framework for remedy to occur,” said Ms Reilly. 

Ms Reilly urged the New South Wales Government to recognise the TCF industry as being at an elevated risk for labour exploitation. She emphasised that Ethical Clothing Australia’s accreditation program was established to address these vulnerabilities and create a framework to mitigate workplace risks and remedy exploitation in the industry. “The program is both a protective and preventative factor of the more extreme forms of exploitative labour practices from occurring, including forced labour,” Ms Reilly stated. 

Ms Reilly called on the NSW Government to adopt a procurement policy that prioritises Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation for all publicly procured textile, clothing, and footwear items, such as uniforms and personal protective equipment (PPE). She also provided responses about Ethical Clothing Australia’s structure and funding, then spoke about how Ethical Clothing Australia is uniquely positioned to discover and remedy worker exploitation. 

“At the end of the day, we are trying to protect people. Often people don’t understand their rights, they might not understand that they are being exploited. They have fear or distrust, a whole range of things,” she said, “In these sorts of working environments, the importance of employing people with lived or living experience of the industry and the exploitation is a powerful tool in being able to adequately build the rapport to enable people to be able to speak out or to feel confident and comfortable to bring an issue to the fore.” 

We extend our gratitude to the Committee for inviting Ethical Clothing Australia to provide evidence at the Inquiry. 

If you are interested in learning more about the submission, you can watch the public hearing here (1:45:00 – 2:30:00).