Rip Curl clothes produced in North Korean factory with ‘slave-like’ conditions
Australian clothing company Rip Curl has admitted one of its winter collections was manufactured in North Korea, but labeled as if the garments had been made in China.
The company, which said a supplier shifted the manufacturing to the North Korean facility without informing them, says it was aware of the swap before Fairfax Media first reported it Sunday local time.
Slave-like conditions prevailed at the North Korean factory, Fairfax Media reported, making the revelations all the more blemishing for Rip Curl.
Rip Curl’s Chief Financial Officer Tony Roberts said in a statement the company does not authorize production in North Korea.
“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.
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.
We do not approve or authorise any production of Rip Curl products out of North Korea.”
It’s unclear if the brand, best known for its surf wear, ever reported the alleged underhanded switch to retailers and if customers who bought items from the Winter 2015 Mountainwear collection were informed prior to this week’s revelations.
It appears Rip Curl clothing has been made at the North Korean factory near the capital of Pyongyang since at least July 2014. Anjaly Thomas, a travel writer, told Mashable she visited the Pyongsong Taedonggang Factory at that time and saw Rip Curl clothing being manufactured. The clothing, however, was being passed off as if it were made in China. Thomas detailed her visit on her blog, Travel with Anjaly.
“The three floors of a large factory building was working full swing, with women in uniforms, bent over the machines under slow rotating fans, reducing yards of material into jackets and pants, expertly sowing, stitching together what would later sell for quite a sum in the western market,” Thomas wrote.
“The workers are paid very little and often as food coupons to be en-cashed at [government] run stores for rice and corn and very little cash comes to them.”
Nik Halik, a businessman who took a tour of the same factory, told Fairfax Media he also saw Rip Curl clothing being manufactured and affixed with “Made in China” tags. According toFairfax Media, Halik visited North Korea in July 2015, a year after Thomas. When asked about the two separate sightings, a Rip Curl representative would not address the issue and directed Mashable to an apology letter from Rip Curl’s founders and directors posted to Facebook late Sunday after heavy backlash.
The founders and directors knew about the North Korean production of 4,000 units of Rip Curl ski wear for “some months,” according to the post, which called the production diversion a “screw up.”
“The Founders and Directors of Rip Curl take full responsibility for this screw up. We are very sorry that Rip Curl has breached the trust our customers put in us to make sure that the products they wear cause them no moral concern,” the post stated.
Dr. Helen Szoke, chief executive of Oxfam Australia, a charity focused on supporting the poor, placed the blame squarely on Rip Curl after its CFO pointed the finger at its supplier in the company’s initial statement.
“Rip Curl has no excuse for not tracking clothing produced within its own supplier factories,” Szoke said in a statement. “Companies are responsible for human rights abuses within their businesses – not only morally but also within United Nations guidelines on the responsibilities of businesses when it comes to human rights.