Why do we need ethical fashion retailers?

This site features reviews of retailers who have made a commitment to supplying ethical fashion by making their sourcing policy above board and transparent. They are paving the way for other major fashion retailers by giving us a taste of things could be, much as the early Fair Trade labels did with coffee and chocolate. Now it is almost impossible to buy coffee and chocolate from the branded suppliers which isn’t Fair Trade, due to customer demand.

By purchasing your clothes from ethical retailers, you are showing that you prioritise human rights in the garment supply chain, and high street retailers will take notice.

Ever since the Rana Plaza disaster on 24th April 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which 1,133 garment makers lost their lives producing clothes for the UK and European high street, there has been a nagging doubt in shoppers’ minds that they can trust the labels they wear. Unfortunately, this doubt is founded on a reality which reaches far beyond just the terrible circumstances in which so many people died that day.

Thanks to the availability of cheap, fast fashion, we now constantly buy new clothes, assisted by the fact that each item is more affordable. Ironically this does not mean that we save money, simply that we can buy more. Not only does this have an environmental impact (these clothes end up in landfill, whether or not they pass through charity shops first), but it’s making the multinational companies richer and more powerful relative to those who work at the supply end in producing nations.

In the year leading up to the Rana Plaza disaster, there was approximately 1 fire a week in a different factory in Bangladesh, causing a total of 800 deaths (Guardian, 18.13.2013) mainly because workers were locked in and couldn’t escape. Although legislation is now in place to prevent this from happening again, it is up to the high street brands to ensure safety guidelines are enforced. In the past however, the tightening up of working regulations in one country has meant that retailers take their trade to factories in less regulated countries.

The only solution is to show the brands that consumers care about how their clothing is manufactured. Once this becomes a factor in our buying choices, retailers will feel the necessity to take responsibility and prove that their production is ethical. This does not involve a major loss on their part. As the cost of production of a £10 t-shirt is on average 15p (including factory costs as well as the wages paid to workers), in other words 1.5% of the retail price, doubling workers wages would only incur another 15p, and profits would barely be affected. This may go some way towards reducing the 80 hour working weeks that are involved in meeting the deadlines for the shopfloor but only if the major retailers ease off with their demands.

For more information on the conditions faced by workers to supply clothes to the UK high street, including a daily grind of excessive hours, forced overtime, lack of job security, poverty wages, denial of trade union rights, poor health, exhaustion, sexual harassment and hazardous working places, see www.cleanclothes.org

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