Victoria’s got a secret, and it’s not lingerie, and it’s not “super comfy and super sexy.”

By   /   August 23, 2016  /   4 Comments

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The underwear manufacturer has a much bigger secret, a real secret: they’re hiding workers.

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The underwear manufacturer has a much bigger secret, a real secret: they’re hiding workers. International Trade Union Confederation President, Sharon Burrows, says 97% of the workers are invisible, not directly employed but scattered through the global supply chain, where the company can pretend these workers are not its responsibility.  

The 2016 Ethical Fashion Guide, produced by Baptist World Aid Australia, gave Victoria’s Secret (a chain of lingerie shops) a ranking of D+ for the observance of international labour rights. There are numerous media and research reports that Victoria’s Secret sources its cotton from companies, such as one based in Jordan, which uses child labour.

Goods are often produced far from their point of sale, changing hands along a complex and opaque supply chain from the raw material to manufacturing and distribution companies before they finally get to the consumer.  Like a game of pass the parcel, responsibility for the product rests fleetingly in the hands of those it passes through, many of whom will be oblivious to the gem contained within, its component parts, or who else was in the game. Of course someone designed the game and they know everything – but they’re hanging on to their secret.

Services are the same and we are drowning in examples of businesses, both public and private, that know full well that they are responsible for the lives of workers they contract to clean our buildings, remove our waste, and secure our banks – but they aren’t admitting it.  Or put it this way, if they don’t know about the service supply chain they shouldn’t be allowed to govern or manage the business because the consequences of their actions are so severe; the game they control destroys lives, cripples communities, and creates the kind of society no one with an ounce of respect for democracy and fairness really wants to see.  Take Agnes, who cleans for Auckland Council:

“I’ve got three jobs. I work as a cleaner and I work 68 hours a week….I’ve got four grandchildren now and it’s a blessing for me. I need to see them and given them money for their school, to pay their fees.  I need a life, I don’t have a life.  I only work and go to sleep and get up and go to work.  I get $15.25 an hour and if I had a Living Wage it would be good for me, to live a better life.”

Agnes spoke to the West Auckland People’s Assembly recently at which a group of candidates for Council were asked to commit to ensuring a Living Wage for directly employed and contracted workers at Auckland Council.  Penny Hulse and Greg Presland said “yes.” Current Councillor, Linda Cooper, said “no.”  In fact she said: “I don’t support forcing other organisations to do that.”

Yet setting minimum acceptable terms for tenders is precisely what councils do and that is precisely what Linda Cooper should do if she is interested in her public institution operating in an ethical way.  This is what public body leaders and managers should do because not only do they represent us, the people, but they are the only ones that can effect change for workers, like Agnes.  Her contractor/employer is in a competitive tendering situation and is in no position to sustain wage increases if the funder, the Council, doesn’t pay them to do that.  Only the Council can create a level playing field for the tendering of services and that tendering should be on quality of delivery and not on how little the wages will cost.

The Living Wage Movement is calling on candidates for councils in Auckland, Wellington and some other centres to pay no less than a Living Wage to their directly employed staff and to contracted workers delivering services on a regular and ongoing basis.  This amount of money calculated annually by the Anglican Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit is the amount necessary to survive and participate in society.  

It is also significant in the light of recent research by Massey University’s MPOWER group, which has identified in its longitudinal research on the Living Wage that the household income range of $30-$39,000 is where people perceive a move from ‘survival’ to a ‘decent’ income. There is an impact of income on the choices workers are able to make and therefore on their well-being and development.

Council cleaners on the minimum wage, around $31,000p/a (full time), are robbed of the choices critical for well-being, such as the choice Agnes might make to spend time she doesn’t currently have, with her grandchildren.  The Massey research suggests that a Living Wage of around $41,000 provides a significant shift in well-being for all our low paid workers. Most of us would say that those workers who work hard keeping our cities clean, safe and secure, deserve this.

We can take action against the tales of child slavery in the supply chain of Victoria’s Secret by not buying its underwear.  We can stop the game, unwrap the parcel and expose the real source of exploitation. We can also take action against the modern day slavery of contracted workers right here in New Zealand by voting in local council elections against those who refuse to accept responsibility for their own role in generating working poverty in our community.  Vote against Linda Cooper in Waitakere Ward.  Vote in support of Penny Hulse and Greg Presland because they have committed to act against exploitation at Auckland Council and pay a Living Wage to directly employed and contracted workers.

 

You can find out more as our commitments to support a Living Wage emerge over the next weeks and are posted to www.livingwage.org,nz

 

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About the author

Annie Newman

Contributer

Annie is the National Director of Campaigning for E tū, the largest private sector union in Aotearoa, spent 20 years in the union movement and 8 years in the public service in mediation, management and policy. Annie is also National Convenor of the Living Wage Movement Aotearoa NZ."

4 Comments

  1. Mike in Auckland says:

    Perhaps we should put links to the sources up?

    http://theregister.co.nz/news/2016/04/new-zealands-ethical-fashion-companies-2016-revealed-who-passed-test

    https://www.baptistworldaid.org.au/assets/Be-Fair-Section/FashionReport.pdf

    I must say the results are “mixed” or mediocre overall. Victoria’s Secret seem to be one of those who do not give much of a shit at all.

    But even those that pass the marks, i.e. meet standards, what are these standards, but bare minimum ethical standards, which can also be circumvented and manipulated, when looking at practices more closely.

    We have a world of abject poverty for most, and in many poor countries, whose populations outnumber those in “developed” countries, we have hundreds of millions of desperate workers, who put up with anything.

    There is so much sub contracting and home and cottage manufacturing and trading going on, I bet that those trying to keep an eye on things do not really get the whole picture.

    While there has been talk that over recent years hundreds of millions had been lifted out of poverty, tell that the people of Brazil, South Africa, yes tell that the people in Venezuela and so forth, where the “boom” years of the recent past have turned into bust years now, causing much instability.

    The commodities boom is over, so it is back to bare survival for more.

    And the main problem is, as I see it, while our consumers may claim they wish to buy ethical products, they never check, and their wishful thinking is not matched by their actions, as in the end, most will decide by looking at the prices.

    The people who buy fair trade chocolate at the supermarket will be vastly outnumbered by those buying Mars or Snickers bars and the like.

    The same applies to clothing, electronics and the list goes on. Even where standards are met, they are minimum standards in poor countries, a minimum wage in Bangla Desh or in the Philippines, if they have such, will be rather minimalistic when compared to even our lamented minimum wage.

    Most people simply fool themselves, in so many areas, they want to feel good, so they pretend they want ethical and good standards, but when it comes to paying a little bit extra, you will suddenly see them all having been vanished. The relative poor cannot spend more anyway, and the middle class that can in part still afford their “homes”, they will only spend so much on Victoria’s Secret and similar stuff, and otherwise spend money on their mortgage and loan repayments. We may add the environmental issues, much lip service and little action, who in the urban sprawl we have will give up their cars and give up “convenience”? Only a small percentage.

    That needs to change, I wonder how this can be changed though.

  2. Knarf says:

    Let’s see, you used a Victoria’s Secret model for click bait on an article that didn’t really have much to do with VS?

    • “Knarf”, you actually bothered to read the story, have you?

      “The 2016 Ethical Fashion Guide, produced by Baptist World Aid Australia, gave Victoria’s Secret (a chain of lingerie shops) a ranking of D+ for the observance of international labour rights. There are numerous media and research reports that Victoria’s Secret sources its cotton from companies, such as one based in Jordan, which uses child labour.

      […]

      We can take action against the tales of child slavery in the supply chain of Victoria’s Secret by not buying its underwear. We can stop the game, unwrap the parcel and expose the real source of exploitation. “

  3. Andrea says:

    Most of us don’t buy VS products – but many of us do buy
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/world/82862438/Banana-Republic-the-ugly-story-behind-New-Zealand-s-most-popular-fruit

    Plus: http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/28/09.htm
    How much (if any) have those conditions improved?

    And this is a never-healing sore as well – http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/bangladesh-clothing-factory-workers-face-harsher-conditions-despite-efforts-claim-activists-1531560

    When it says ‘Made in China’ – is it really?

    And, BTW, for all the usual suspects – Agnes is a Baby Boomer. You know – filthy rich, snap up all the properties, blah and so. If she’s doing it hard now, wait until she falls onto the pension. Less than $20 000 a year for a single person, but there’s no seniors’ rate for power, phone or rates.

    Good for the councilllors who spoke out. Wonder if they’ll also vote for a pay freeze for the term of their ‘contract’. Or is that too demanding?


 
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