Country Road has come under fire for taking part in a Melbourne Fashion Week online talk on ethics and responsible fashion, while its warehouse workers strike for a $1 an hour pay rise.
The retailer was invited to take part in the City of Melbourne fashion week online panel on Wednesday as part of Beyond Greenwashing, an event backed by the Victorian government via Creative Victoria.
Country Road Group head of sustainability Eloise Bishop told the event the company was involved in ongoing industrial action at its Truganina warehouse that it hoped to resolve in a “very fair and respectful way soon”.
However her comments drew ire from those watching over the company’s failure to offer the striking workers better pay.
“Environmental action and justice for workers can‘t be separated. It’s shameful when companies greenwash their exploitative labour practices,” wrote Anna Langford on Facebook.
The United Workers Union (UWU) is urging shoppers to avoid Country Road, which distributes fashion favourites including Mimco, Trenery, Witchery and Politix.
The UWU says the Country Road Group — owned by South African retail group Woolworths Holding Limited (WHL), which reported more than $300 million profit last financial year — received $25 million in JobKeeper subsidies.
Yet it was refusing the 130 mainly female workers at its Truganina warehouse a $1 an hour pay rise, which would bring their pay packet in line with workers at the male-dominated warehouses in the area.
The workers are paid between $22.50 and $26 an hour, with the average closer to $23 an hour, a UWU spokeswoman said.
“The main issue is that it’s unbelievably low for logistics,” she said.
“For instance, at Hanes, a warehouse directly across the road, they earn an average of $30 an hour.”
Negotiations have been continuing since April, with workers beginning strike action last week, which included chaining themselves to Country Road’s flagship Melbourne store in South Yarra.
The company had offered a pay rise of 66 cents an hour, but there had been no movement on demands to increase job security for workers at the site, half of whom were casuals, the union said.
The Country Road Group said its offer was 11 per cent higher than the award rate set by the Fair Work Commission and provided a 2.7 per cent annual pay rise for the next three years.
The company accused the union of trying to publicly discredit its brands and team members with “false and baseless allegations”.
“Country Road Group is working to deliver fair and sustainable wage growth to our distribution team and has always paid wages above the industry award rate set by the Fair Work Commission,” a spokesman said.
“We are proud of our workplace culture and are deeply committed to treating all our team members with fairness, dignity and respect.
“We are an equal opportunity employer, pay our team fairly and do not condone any type of discrimination based on gender or otherwise.”