Rip Curl supplier allegedly made clothes under ‘slave-like’ conditions

A new, damning report by the Sydney Morning Herald has shown that the Australian surfwear giant Rip Curl has produced and sold millions of dollars worth of clothes manufactured under “slave-like” conditions in North Korean factories since at least 2014.

According to an investigation by Fairfax Media, workers at the Taedonggang Clothing Factory near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang were contracted to make some of Rip Curl’s 2015 winter range of clothing despite the articles being stamped with a “Made in China” logo.

Defectors from North Korea have told investigators that factory workers in the country work long hours for little to no pay and can be imprisoned in work camps if they refuse to obey orders.

After being sent photos of factory workers in North Korea producing Rip Curl garments, Rip Curl chief financial officer Tony Roberts blamed a subcontractor for the issue, but said the company “takes its social compliance obligations seriously.”

Rip Curl North Korean factories
The 2014’15 mountainwear collection from Rip Curl, which investigators found out was produced in North Korea. Photo: Courtesy of Rip Curl

“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,” Roberts said in a statement.

“This was a case of a supplier diverting part of their production order to an unauthorized subcontractor, with the production done from an unauthorized factory, in an unauthorized country, without our knowledge or consent, in clear breach of our supplier terms and policies. We do not approve or authorize any production of Rip Curl products out of North Korea.”

It’s worth noting that, as reported by TRANSWORLD BUSINESS, privately owned Rip Curl posted a 25 percent jump in underlying full-year net profit for fiscal year 2015.

Despite Roberts’ statement distancing Rip Curl from the decision to source its clothing from North Korean factories, not everyone in Australia is happy with the company’s apology.

"Rip Curl has no excuse for not tracking clothing produced within its own supplier factories," Dr. Helen Szoke, CEO of Oxfam Australia, an organization whose mission is to “find practical, innovative ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive,” 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."

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