Cotton On retail workers throughout New Zealand kicked off a protest yesterday that will see FIRST Union members around the country proudly wearing "Cotton H(on)est - Living Wage" t-shirts at work until Christmas Eve in protest at the company’s ongoing refusal to negotiate a pathway to the living wage for retail staff, FIRST Union said today.
Yesterday, Cotton On retail staff arrived at work in stores around New Zealand wearing the t-shirts, and they say customers so far have been unanimously supportive and curious about the campaign. Tali Williams, FIRST Union Secretary for Retail and Finance, said Cotton On workers have been calling for a living wage - or even a pathway to it - for over a year, and yet the company has not returned to the bargaining table for the last three months.
"Workers wore these t-shirts today because their corporate managers clearly aren’t listening to their concerns and won’t even discuss a pathway to the living wage, and yet workers have to keep selling the Cotton On brand to customers as some ‘woke’ employer that really cares," said Ms Williams.
"You simply cannot pretend to be a business that cares for the world if you do not care for the wellbeing of your own workers."
"Customers have a right to know that they are being served by low-paid workers whose employer is actually trying to drive down wages to the extent that they are moving backwards towards a minimum wage for new staff."
The living wage t-shirt protest was supported yesterday by similar actions in Melbourne, Australia, where members from the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union picketed outside Cotton On shops in solidarity with FIRST Union members. In New Zealand, workers at both Cotton On's retail stores and distribution centres have taken full and partial strike actions over the last year, including major protests on Black Friday and via social media. Their managers have remained resolute in their public silence over the protests.
"Fast fashion chains like Cotton On are playing fast and loose with the truth, and they want to be everything to everyone - cheap yet ethical, friendly yet impersonal, conscientious but ultimately profitable above all else," said Ms Williams.
"Depriving your workers of any prospect of fair wage negotiations at the end of the decade while simultaneously expecting them to keep upselling this ethical fantasy with a smile during the Christmas rush is perhaps the most ironically on-brand thing Cotton On have ever done."