The supply chain watchdog and retail

clothing, mens, fashion, rackLisa Gorman, the founder of the now iconic Gorman fashion label, has recently been vilified for receiving an “F” — whatever that means — for not completing a questionnaire prepared by the Baptists.

Gershon Nimbalker, the advocacy manager, appears to be the face behind Baptist World Aid Australia – the self-appointed mafia monitoring the manufacturing of merchandise overseas and links to child labour, slavery and other malpractices.

A noble cause you say.

If you have a few spare days read their Fashion Transparency Index here. And if you have a few more spare days read their 2016 Australian Fashion Report here

The extent of these reports, especially the latter, beggars belief. Who is paying for these reports? Who decides to allocate funds to produce these as opposed to using this money for the poor and needy? Are the elders within the church aware of this scandalous use of worshipper’s money – those folk donating diligently every Sunday into the collection plates around Australia in the belief that someone will directly benefit?

The vast majority of Australians purchase merchandise because they have a need or a want. They are not particularly interested in who made it and where. If it looks good and feels good and the price is right, they’ll buy it trusting that it is not made in a sweatshop in Australia or that it was not made by slaves somewhere in Asia. Retailers in Australia would not knowingly buy goods from such unscrupulous suppliers.

There is no excuse whatsoever for the abuse of workers anywhere in the world, including at 7-Eleven in Australia.

But let us reflect for a moment. There are hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, who would go to sleep tonight very very hungry were it not for the wages they earn, yes in poor conditions and probably under age. One of our biggest challenges in Australia is that we have a trade union mentality of entitlement to a “fair wage” with the vast majority of protagonists having no clue what is happening in the real world. Many have never left Australian shores let alone visited third world countries and seen abject poverty.

When my daughter went on an overseas excursion many years ago to Bali, the schoolchildren had to be counselled before they left to minimise the trauma they would experience. This is reality, while the do gooders pontificating from their air conditioned offices in North Ryde without much if any experience outside their sheltered employment insist that poor Lisa Gorman (and other retailers) allocate hours of valuable time to complete their ill conceived questionnaire.

Stuart Bennie is a retail consultant at Impact Retailing and can be contacted at or 0414 631 702.

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  1. Leighton posted on May 6, 2016

    Stuart- Wow. Did you really mean what you wrote? Apart from not seeming to want to care about the living standards of those in impoverished circumstances, you seem to have a misunderstanding of Christianity and Love in action. Whilst I am not a representative of Baptist World Aid, I am sure that any costs incurred in preparing this report would have been with the blessing of the congregants who put their money in the plate. And yes, there is a direct link between what they are doing and your accusation that they should be" helping the poor and needy" If a 12 year old girl working for a bowl of rice a day sleeping under her sewing machine isn't poor and needy, then who on earth is? The reports creators obviously feel it appropriate to bring to attention the plight of the people who are producing the stuff that we so voraciously consume. Transparency is important in this process, and I applaud their advocacy. If by generating this report they raise awareness of the conditions in which the stuff we consume is made, and that better informs consumers, then surely that is a good thing. You said, "they’ll buy it trusting that it is not made in a sweatshop in Australia or that it was not made by slaves somewhere in Asia", but Rana Plaza showed that the trust was misplaced, and more work needs to be done. Would you happily walk down the street if you knew that your jeans were made by a worker not even paid a living wage? Of course not, and I suspect that you wouldn't want to ask the question either for fear that the answer may prick your consciousness. Prior to Rana Plaza, we turned a blind eye- we kinda wondered how the clothes could be made cheap, but didn't want to think too much about it either. The point of this report is to bring the issues in focus and allow us as consumers to make more informed choices. Whilst we are all happy promoting environmental sustainability (and rightly so), should not we moreso be focussing attention on human sustainability. These organisations are encouraging us to do just that and should be applauded and not vilified just because they make you feel uncomfortable.

  2. Dave Farrell posted on May 7, 2016

    Interesting representation. The needs and wants of the rich feed the grateful poor.

  3. Stuart Bennie posted on May 9, 2016

    A very well written comment Leighton. Yes - I meant every word I wrote, and yes, I do not understand Christianity or any other religion for that matter. I believe that religions should be sticking to their knitting and not meddling in areas they know little about. Leave these matters to Governments or UN agencies and concentrate on what you know best - saving souls. Otherwise where will this all end? The Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Rastafarians et al could all start telling retailers what they should and should not be doing!

    • Leighton posted on May 9, 2016

      Then surely it is a dangerous thing to criticise what you don't understand? The religions you quoted are all very different in their "saving souls" model. The Christian model criticised has as key to its "knitting" the genuine desire to show uncompromising love and care for our fellow beings, as was modelled to them by Jesus. In that, Christianity is rather unique, and Baptist World Aid is absolutely sticking to its knitting! The results of leaving things to governments to sort out the mess are self evident failures, because inherently they are always wanting to see a return or trade off- They are not inherently benevolent. The report isn't a scandalous use of worshippers money if it in any way goes towards raising awareness working/living standards of those in the garment industry, or even starting a useful discussion such as this. I agree with you that not all low paid jobs are exploitative, and again that's where reports like this are informative in their encouragement of transparency. Other things being equal, wouldn't Johnny customer feel better about a garment if it was certified as sourced through non exploitative labour? But at present, Johnny customer just doesn't know, and importantly, probably doesn't trust much of what the retailers may say about their efforts in this respect. We owe it to ourselves, and third world workers, to be better informed about such things. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss Stuart!

  4. Michael Baker posted on May 9, 2016

    Stuart, interesting piece and certainly provocative. One of the problems that non-economists have in such 'monitoring' exercises is that they think people in developing countries manufacturing our clothes are entitled to the same wage as we get. There is a market for labour in every country and the market wage is determined by demand and supply conditions in that country. In developing countries, the market-clearing wage is going to be way below what we get. I'm sick to death of hearing from people that, say, Walmart should pay higher wages in Mexico or Argentina, despite the fact that people queue around the block to get jobs there when a new store opens. As for working conditions, that does definitely need to be monitored, and Stuart I think you may optimistic in assuming that Australian retailers wouldn't knowingly buy merchandise from unscrupulous suppliers. I have no idea why you would make that argument.

  5. James posted on May 10, 2016

    Poverty is now an industry. You need Poverty to keep everything cheap. Poverty will never be resolved while we continue to yell out for cheaper and cheaper products. Abuse is high and for what? To buy then discard ... Can not believe your article Stuart, who paid you this time?

  6. Michelle King posted on May 10, 2016

    Having worked in the Australian fashion industry for over 20 years I would have to agree with much of what Bernie has written here. But what astounded me most about these reports were some of the so-called 'results' Having just gone through some of the most comprehensive social and ethical factory auditing I have ever experienced with the Aldi group I am amazed that they scored so low whilst other large retailers that I have worked for and with scored well above what they should have. Sadly I would also have to agree with Michael Baker 'I think you may optimistic in assuming that Australian retailers wouldn't knowingly buy merchandise from unscrupulous suppliers' Sadly they do and they are.

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