Kiwi fashion house stoush: Denise L'Estrange-Corbet slams Trelise Cooper for unethical clothing

Dame Denise L'Estrange-Corbet has slammed Kiwi designers who use third world labour to manufacture their clothing.

The WORLD founder spoke to Ryan Bridge and Lisa Owen on RadioLIVE about the results of a global ethical fashion report.

The Tearfund and World Baptist Aid Australia report scrutinised more than 100 companies and 400 brands, including 18 New Zealand companies.

Karen Walker received a C and Ruby a D+, while Trelise Cooper was hit with a shocking F rating in the report, which Dame Denise says she's "disappointed" about.

"I think it's very sad that New Zealand designers, who are very proud about being New Zealand designers, do not support the industry and have all their clothes made in third world countries," she says.

"Trelise Cooper came out and said she was deeply serious about social responsibility. Well if she was, then she wouldn't be manufacturing in a third world country."

WORLD did not appear in the report because the brand manufactures all their clothing in New Zealand, and have done since their inception in 1989.

The company must abide by governmental standards around paying staff a working wage, meaning WORLD charges more for their garments - although Dame Denise says less ethical brands often charge just as much or even more for their clothing.

"They're making huge mark-ups on the back of children making clothes and really bad working conditions," she says.

"No New Zealand person would think that was acceptable if we did that in New Zealand with our workers, yet these people are quite happy to let people in other countries work under those conditions.

"I'm very, very disappointed."

When asked if she feels cheated by companies who use cheap offshore labour, she replied with a scathing indictment of brands such as Trelise Cooper.

"I don't feel cheated, I just feel that they've got no moral obligation," she said.

"I couldn't sleep at night knowing that children were making my garments or stitching on sequins. That's my company's ethos and we've always stood by that."

In response to the report, Trelise Cooper released a statement saying the F grade it was given is not an accurate reflection of its ethical standards or behaviour.

"Tearfund demanded an arbitrary, limited timeframe for a very intense and detailed report that we simply could not meet. We volunteered to participate instead in the following year, which they did not accept," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"Trelise Cooper Group has developed an Ethical Code of Conduct to ensure workers are not exploited.

"This covers key issues of fair living wages, child labour, hours of work, justice, safety, diversity and we require all employers, our suppliers and manufacturers to work within the code."

Tearfund's CEO Ian McInnes disputed Trelise Cooper's statement about the Ethical Fashion Report, saying the organisation stands by their methodology.

"We believe the timeframes for completing the survey are reasonable. We give companies just over four months to complete the survey; the reason for this timeframe is to ensure we give them enough time while at the same time ensuring we capture an accurate assessment of their current ethical practices.  We believe we have this balance about right: this year, around 80% of the 114 companies surveyed submitted their information before deadline and we receive very few complaints about the timeframe," he said.

"It's also inaccurate to say that companies are automatically given an F if they don’t participate. We believe information about all major companies should be available to the public so consumers can ensure they’re not buying clothes that could be made by people trapped in exploitation. So, if companies choose not to complete the survey we assess them on publicly available information. Some companies still score quite high in this way, for example Levi Strauss scored a B-, and most who don’t complete the survey don’t receive an F. If companies score an F it means they have little to no information publicly available, which no longer meets industry standards around transparency."

When approached by Newshub, Dame Trelise Cooper said she "didn’t want to engage" with Dame Denise's criticism but pointed out the 'social responsibility' section of her company website.