It’s that time of the year when we start digging out stored items of clothing in anticipation of the change of season. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will be starting to ‘layer up’ and are probably realising that the oh-so-cool poncho we bought a few winters ago just does not cut the fashion mustard anymore. It’s likely that a few seasonal purchases are in order.
However, this year I will have another dimension to consider when I embark on an outing to update my winter wardbrobe: have my purchases been ethically manufactured?
Unfortunately it is a lot harder than one might think to be sure that our clothes have not been made by children in sweatshops. Many labels are particularly vague about their practices which means that consumers are left in the dark about the conditions in which their clothes have been manufactured. But it is not all bad. Organisations such as Labour Behind the Label and the Global Poverty Project are working with retailers to encourage them to make their standards transparent. This way we can all be better informed so that we do not unintentionally support retailers who do not respect human rights.
It is easy to assume that cheap clothes = bad practice and expensive clothes = a fair deal but the equation is not that simple. In fact, I was really surprised to see that Primark have a website specifically dedicated to Ethical Trading. In contrast, I was equally intrigued by this article relating to human rights abuses in Monsoon’s supply chain.
It is evident that there is just no easy way to ensure that the people who make our clothes are working in decent conditions and are paid a fair wage. Yet, forewarned is forearmed. The Fairtrade Foundation website has a great list of UK clothing companies who sell clothes made from Fairtrade cotton. You may or may not be surprised to see Sainsburys and Tesco on that list! However, it is important to acknowledge that not all items are produced in the same way and many retailers will have some lines which are Fairtrade while other lines are produced in awful conditions, as this report shows. If I wanted to be absolutely sure, I could always opt for a label that specialises in ethical clothing; companies such as People Tree and Beulah London, a luxury brand started by a friend of mine that is quickly becoming a favourite of celebrities.
From now on I am opting to support the retailers and organisations who are working to reverse the negative effects of our mass consumerism. Instead of buying the first nice coat or dress that I see, I will make sure that the retailer is working hard to ensure their supply chain is closely monitored. Why should the world’s poorest suffer so that I can feel good a couple of times in a trendy ensemble? By taking a stand against businesses who do not respect workers rights, I am helping to fight the cause of those who are exploited for the sake of our fashion. Look cool or be cool? You decide.