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Workers cutting fabric for Rip Curl jackets in a factory about 100 kilometres south of Pyongyang in North Korea.

Workers cutting fabric for Rip Curl jackets in a factory about 100 kilometres south of Pyongyang in North Korea. Photo: Anjaly Thomas/Sydney Morning Herald


The Inertia

Rip Curl has been around for a long time. Like many clothing brands, they have a tag on them that says “Made in China.” According to the Sydney Morning Herald, though, a large part of their 2015 line wasn’t made in China–it was made in North Korea, and under conditions being called “slave-like.”

North Korea is notorious for its working conditions, and Rip Curl’s 2015 mountain-wear line was made in a factory near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, then shipped around the world and sold in retail stores. Rip Curl is deflecting the blame to one of its sub-contractors.

“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,” said Rip Curl chief financial officer Tony Roberts. “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.”

The news came out after a Australian traveler named Nik Halik secretly took photos of the garment’s “made in China” labels while his tour guide was distracted.

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Oxfam Australia seems to be leading the charge in holding Rip Curl responsible. “Rip Curl has no excuse for being unaware of what is happening. Companies are responsible for human rights abuses within their businesses – not only morally but also within international human rights frameworks,” said CEO Dr Helen Szoke.

It is becoming more and more common for large companies to show exactly where their goods are made. Kelly Slater’s Outerknown, for instance, has made a point of showing exactly how and where they source their materials. Although OK faced public backlash for it’s higher-than-average price point, it is better than clothing made by forced work.

Rip Curl, of course, is desperately back-pedaling away from the situation. “We do not approve or authorize any production of Rip Curl products out of North Korea,” said Tony Roberts. The fact remains, though, that if an entire line of clothing can be made and shipped around the world without the company itself having any idea of where it was made, there is a deep-seated problem in one of the world’s largest surf brands.