Shaping an ethical industry in Australia

Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) has been protecting and advocating for the rights of Australian garment workers and helping local businesses to comply with local workplace laws for 20 years.

The organisation was created in response to rising concern about the exploitation of Australian garment workers, particularly of outworkers (otherwise known as homeworkers) in local supply chains.  Businesses that were doing the right thing were being tarnished by the poor practices of other operators and local retailers and manufacturers were seeking a solution to recognise those that were adopting ethical practices.

The accreditation program was established under the leadership and collaborative efforts of the local Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union (then known as the TCFUA), and businesses and employer groups from the local industry including the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and the New South Wales Business Chamber.

After a lengthy development period a ‘Code of Practice’ was created to guide the accreditation program and originally three variations were created separating retailers, manufacturers and sportswear. It was developed as a means for local textile, clothing and footwear businesses to demonstrate that they are compliant with Australian workplace laws.

The accreditation body started with two part-time workers and the program received its first application in November 2000. The program was originally launched as the No Sweatshop Label at an official public event held in 2001.

In 2010 the accreditation program was re-branded as Ethical Clothing Australia following feedback from stakeholders on the need to modernise the organisational name and the certification trade mark. As the local industry has changed in the past 20 years the organisation has also adapted, and the accreditation of manufacturers became a major focus of work.

Key aspects of the program have remained the same since it was created. To take part in the program businesses must voluntarily sign-up and commit to an independent audit (undertaken by the Union as part of  Service Level Agreement) to ensure that all workers including outworkers/homeworkers and any contractors, are meeting their obligations under the Award and that  the workers are receiving the appropriate pay, entitlements and are working in a safe environment. Once successfully accredited, businesses are able to use the certification trade mark on their Australian made products and in other promotional formats.  To remain accredited a business must take part in the audit each year. In addition to its core work, the program has developed various documents and resources to support local businesses, and in an effort to aid greater education and awareness.

ECA is an example of how industry, employers and unions can work together to create and deliver a robust program that supports an ethical local industry. The accreditation program’s history shows that it has been a trail blazer in developing a response protecting and advocating for the rights of garment workers – there is no equivalent accreditation program that applies the same level of rigour and utilises the trade union as part of the process nationally or internationally.

The need for accreditation program and auditing remains as strong as the day it was created as non-compliance, exploitation and unsafe work practices continue in the local industry. The program continues to provide a platform to profile and showcase businesses that are doing the right thing by the workers in their local supply chains.

Timeline – 20 years of Ethical Clothing Australia

2000: Two part-time staff engaged to manage Australia’s first ethical accreditation process for textiles, clothing and footwear industry.

2000: Australian Defence Apparel (now known as ADA) becomes first business to apply for accreditation. ADA remains accredited to this day.

2001: The accreditation process adopts the official trademark of The No Sweat Shop label and is publicly launched in Melbourne.

2001 – 2008: Various resources were developed to grow the program and aid workers in the industry and to guide local businesses on their legal obligations.

2008: The Federal Government commits funding to the No Sweatshop Label accreditation program.

2010: The Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) brand launches, replacing the No Sweatshop Label.

2010: Cue and Veronika Maine become the first business to gain accreditation under the ECA trademark in late 2009.

2012: Federal Government withdraws funding for ECA.

2015: Victorian Government announces two years of funding to ECA.

2017: Victorian Government announces three years of funding to ECA.

2020: ECA celebrates 20 years since the first business applied for accreditation.