Aritzia’s little secret

Poverty wages and hidden supply chains

By Nirvana Mujtaba

Rya has been working in the same garment factory in Cambodia for the past four years. Now forty years old, she has been a garment worker since 2007 and knows firsthand the harsh realities that persist under the shadows of glamorous fashion brands. 

Her daily routine involves waking up early in the morning, often as early as 5 am, to prepare food for the busy day ahead. She arrives at the factory at 7 am and works for long hours, often without breaks. When asked about how she feels about her work, Rya expressed exhaustion and frustration, adding that she works long hours often without breaks and that the working conditions in the factory are terrible. 

Rya works 8 to 10 hours a day, and earns $200USD per month. Photo: Caroline Leal/Oxfam
Rya works 8 to 10 hours a day and earns $262 CAD per month. Photo: Caroline Leal/Oxfam

Rya works 8 to 10 hours a day and her salary is $262 per month, which isn’t enough to survive. If she works overtime she can make around $354 per month. She will send $197-220 home to her family and keep $131 to pay for everything else – rent, food, utilities. If it turns out not to be enough, she’ll borrow money from others and when her next pay comes, she’ll pay off some debt, send some home and keep little for herself. The cycle keeps repeating. 

 “We earn so little here compared to other countries. We are all humans; how come we are only scraping by, only able to afford a small rental room to share with others, whereas overseas workers sleep in air-conditioned room.”


Rya, conveys a powerful message for everyone: “I have a message for the young people and students who like to buy these branded goods – to please spare a thought for the workers here who work tirelessly, more than workers in Canada, and for a much lower wage. So, they get to have a much better life than us”.

While workers are kept in poverty, Aritzia gets richer

Rya’s story is a stark reminder of the extreme disparities that exist in the world. A garment worker in Cambodia works tirelessly and, on average, earns poverty wages of only $262 per month, struggling to make ends meet. These poverty wages aren’t enough for them to afford decent housing, nutritious food, utilities, education, transportation, healthcare, childcare and saving for unexpected events. The women who make our clothes must be paid at least a living wage that covers a decent standard of living. 

On the flip side of this grim reality, Canadian fashion brand Aritzia soared to new heights last year, boasting a remarkable $2.2 billion in annual net revenue, and shattering its previous sales records. 

With an over $700 million increase from the previous year, this explosive growth highlights the company’s financial strength and growing market position. However, this success comes at a cost – a cost borne by the garment workers in Aritzia’s supply chain. 

As Aritzia celebrates its financial success, the women who make our clothes in the global South earn between $4-$11 per day. By contrast, Aritzia’s CEO, Jennifer Wong, was paid roughly $1,803 per hour last year. A garment worker in Cambodia, where Aritzia sources many of its products, would need to work full-time for more than three years to earn what Aritzia’s CEO makes in just one day. 

The current minimum wage in Cambodia is only 87 percent of what workers should be paid to receive a living wage, which is around $319 per month. By definition, a living wage should be earned in a standard 48-hour working week and be sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for a worker and their family. Fashion brands in Canada need to stop weaving poverty into the clothes that we wear.

Pay inequality isn’t the only problem with Aritzia

Massive pay inequality isn’t the only problem. Aritzia does not publicly disclose crucial information such as their supplier factory names, locations, types of products made, breakdown of the number of workers by gender and other gender identities of their sourcing factories. General information about their supplier countries, as well as the percentage of finished items sourced from each country, isn’t sufficient.

Supply chain transparency is critical for labour and human rights advocates, trade unions and worker representatives, and shows a degree of accountability by major brands and retailers. Brands can benefit from publishing their supplier lists as it allows them to receive timely and credible information from worker representatives which can help mitigate risks of human rights abuse. For instance, if Aritzia discloses its supply chain, workers and their representatives can share timely and credible information with the fashion brand about poverty wages or other labour rights violations. 

In our view, Aritzia’s public reporting on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is lacking compared with many of its industry peers. 

Here’s a glimpse into Aritzia’s work over the past few years:

Aritzia says they are reviewing their practices and encouraging two-way dialogue with their suppliers to “collaboratively develop a roadmap toward economic security.”In their 2023 ESG report, Aritzia placed high importance to human rights, working conditions & living wages on their materiality matrix.

There’s a lot missing. Aritzia has not made a credible commitment to paying living wages to the workers within their supply chain. There is no detailed information on their progress made towards workers economic security, how they are implementing wage ladders. In 2021, Aritzia scored amber on making a commitment on the What She Makes brand tracker because the company engages with appropriate stakeholders on economic security for workers but hasn’t made a commitment nor set a timeframe to pay a living wage.  

Furthermore, Aritzia’s supplier code of conduct (CoC) does not yet align with workers economic security as it only requires adherence to local minimum wage requirements. Unfortunately, these local wage standards are often insufficient, given the competitive environment of sourcing country suppliers striving to attract foreign investment by maintaining low labour costs. 

On Aritzia’s website they mention; “We take a data-driven approach to information gathering and wage analysis, which is part of deepening our understanding of wages throughout our supply chain. With this information, we’re building wage ladders throughout our supply chain and defining next steps.

Their claim to build wage ladders throughout their supply chain has not followed through their reports or any publicly available resources since 2021, when Aritzia scored amber on the WSM brand tracker on making a commitment to paying living wages. 

“We understand that a well-managed supply chain is integral to build a stable, successful and sustainable business. With this in mind, we partner with the best-in-class fabric, trim and finished goods suppliers, defined not only by the quality of the product but also how they work.”

Aritzia’s claim of partnering with best-in-class suppliers could not be verified since they do not disclose:

  • names of supplier factories, location and addresses
  • name and address of parent company (if applicable)
  • types of product made at each factory
  • breakdown of workers by gender per factory
  • the sourcing channel (direct sourcing or through agents)

Aritzia reports their sourcing countries for finished goods and fabric suppliers and the percentage of finished goods procured from their sourcing countries. This isn’t enough to validate their claim.

In 2022, Aritzia said “Over the past year, we conducted a Human Rights Impact Assessment across our value chain, and the findings are being socialized to inform our programming and guide Aritzia as we update our mitigation strategies to focus on addressing the identified priority human rights issues, should they persist.”. In 2023, Aritzia said; “Over the past year, we’ve conducted a Human Rights Impact Assessment and shared the findings internally. Moving forward, these findings will inform how we review our practice and continue to improve by implementing measures to address any identified issues or risks.”

It’s great that Aritzia conducted a human rights impact assessment. However, what were the company’s findings? What are the human rights abuse risks (if any) that they found within their supply chain? What is their risk mitigation strategy? Why is it only shared internally? Why not publicly?

Download the full report including research notes below: