Popular Australian surf clothing brand Rip Curl is currently in hot water for allegedly selling clothes manufactured in North Korea, a country known for using slave labor in its factories.
Fairfax Media uncovered the practice after its investigation revealed that some of Rip Curl’s 2015 winter line was made by the Taedonggang Clothing Factory, a garment manufacturer situated near North Korean capital Pyongyang, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
To avoid detection, the clothes were falsely tagged as being “Made in China” before shipment and outlet distribution.
Rip Curl’s chief financial officer Tony Roberts responded to the revelation with a statement that the firm “takes its social compliance obligations seriously.“
“We were aware of this issue, which related to our Winter 2015 Mountain-wear range, but only became aware of it after the production was complete and had been shipped to our retail customers,” he said.
He blamed a company subcontractor for the garment sourcing: “This was a case of a supplier diverting part of their production order to an unauthorised subcontractor, with the production done from an unauthorised factory, in an unauthorised country, without our knowledge or consent, in clear breach of our supplier terms and policies.”
A photo posted by Rip Curl (@ripcurl_usa) on Oct 26, 2015 at 12:17pm PDT
According to Oxfam Australia’s CEO Dr. Helen Szoke, though, lack of knowledge should not be used as an excuse.
“Rip Curl has no excuse for being unaware of what is happening,” Szoke told the Herald. “Companies are responsible for human rights abuses within their businesses – not only morally but also within international human rights frameworks.
Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union national secretary Michele O’Neil told the Herald that the practice was a “shocking indictment on that company and its policies.” Ms O’Neil fears that there are other big-name companies who share the practice.
“It’s based solely on an endless search to find the cheapest possible labour,” she said.
According to Human Rights Watch, North Korea’s slave workers face years of work for either no wages or symbolic compensation and are severely punished for failing or refusing to do their assigned tasks.
“The harsh reality faced by North Korean workers and students is unpaid forced labor and exploitation,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Those who refuse face being sent to forced labor camps where they must do hard labor, face physical abuse from guards, and are treated as less than human.”