Support for unethical clothing wears thin

Seventy-three per cent of Australians are willing to pay more for ethically made clothes, a worldwide study shows.

Australian consumers were ranked third out of 16 countries in their eagerness to pay more for ethically sourced clothes, behind Sweden and Norway.

''We're up there with those Scandinavian countries,'' said Ipsos research director Rebecca Huntley.

But there is still a disparity between what Australian consumers buy and who they hold responsible for sweatshop tragedies such as the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed at least 1127 people in April.

''The majority of Australians think it's local authorities who should be held responsible,'' Dr Huntley said. ''We're a long way away before Australians think it's consumers.''

The study surveyed almost 12,500 people. Consumers from Japan and South Korea were least engaged in demanding ethical clothing, the report showed. Only 41 per cent of Japanese consumers surveyed said they would pay more for their clothing if it improved the conditions of the workers, while 76 per cent of South Korean consumers said they didn't ''really care'' or feel any responsibility where their clothes were made.

Australians, however, were below the world average when it came to boycotting companies that have questionable ethical practices. Only 34 per cent of respondents said they would boycott a store due to the treatment of its workers.

Italian, French and Argentinian consumers were most likely to boycott a retailer. Consumers from Japan, Norway and the US were least likely to alter their buying habits on ethical grounds. But Oxfam said boycotting was not the answer.

''Once you go down the route of boycotts, the people you are going to impact are the very people who we're trying to lift out of poverty,'' said Oxfam Australia's chief executive Helen Szoke.

Oxfam is instead pushing for the Australian retailers who source garments from Bangladesh - including Kmart, Big W, Target, Cotton On, Forever New and Best & Less - to lift their standards and offer more transparency of their supply chains.

Kmart managing director Guy Russo conceded that his company did not always get ethical sourcing codes right but said the company would not be pulling out of the garment industry in Bangladesh.

''There is nothing wrong with Kmart, and other responsible retailers, sourcing low-cost products from Bangladesh … provided responsible steps are taken to ensure workplace safety and remuneration standards are maintained,'' Mr Russo said in a statement on Wednesday.

The company, which sources clothes from at least 45 factories in Bangladesh, recently signed the international accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh, along with Target, Forever New and Cotton On.

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