So I know a little about the lack of ethics in the High Street supply chain – but what information can I find about my previously favoured retailers?
This is where I hit a snag – when I tried to do research I was face with an array of “ethical codes” which offer no guarantees but rather make promises around aspirations. They “seek” and “pursue” to ensure basic ethical principles such as an end to child labour, safe working conditions and forced labour – but its seems very few are able to wholesomely exclude the risk of these things in their clothing supply.
They are admirable and worthy in their tone, but with most retailers offering in the order of tens of thousands of items can it really be said that disposable clothing is ethical?
The media sporadically scratches the surface of the superficial presentation put on by manufacturers and it becomes apparent that it is relatively easy to be hoodwinked into believing all is good at the level of interface between retailers and suppliers.
Australian Woman’s Weekly – not especially the organ I felt would be lifting the lid on the seedy underbelly of fast fashion clothing manufacture – in their recently published expose of the $2 (AUS) school uniforms offers a view of the glamour put to fashion suppliers and shows how easy it is to see the truth behind the assurances given. Posing as fashion buyers the reporters are shown state-of-the-art factories with glorious working conditions before being ushered away.
But as reporter Clair Weaver adds: “After being farewelled, however, we notice a dilapidated tin-roofed warehouse with broken windows and some activity inside a short distance away. A worker confirms it’s another of the company’s buildings.
“From the moment we enter, it’s clear this is the part of the operation we weren’t supposed to see. The air is thick with body odour and humidity; it’s dark, dirty and absolutely sweltering. Around 200 workers are laboriously making jumpers by sliding a handle backwards and forwards across flat bed knitting machines (circa 1863) or painstakingly joining parts using spoked steel dials. In the background, there’s a relentless clatter of reels of cotton being woven into fabric. It’s a Dickensian scene.”
Even when due diligence is done in inspecting manufacturing plants there’s still a world of complications which means that, while clothing is so industrially produced, that ethical sourcing remains somewhat of a pipe dream. As Dr Andrew Brooks, Kings College London states it’s an systemically ingrained issue:
“Clothing production is spread between different locations and therefore it is actually difficult to say where a garment is truly ‘made’. A lot of well known brands have head quarters in the Global North where the bulk of their design and advertising work takes place. A fibre plant such as cotton, for example, is grown around the world from Albania from Zimbabwe. A single garment like a pair of jeans (see the link below for more information) can contain threads of cotton from a number of different regions that have then been woven together. Manufacturing began moving away from the developed economies of North America and Europe in the 1960s. Factories were established in developing countries where wages were lower. When we buy clothes they might have a ‘Made in China’ label, but that is only a small part of the story. Normally multiple countries are involved in, for instance, the design, cotton growing, manufacturing, advertising and retail. The veil of market-exchange hides the social and environmental relations and conceals the production process from consumers.”
So, realistically at this stage in my Ethical 366 challenge this means that there is not really a “safe” place to start on the high street and – as this live mint article on ethical fashion highlights – you have to know before you buy and this is increasingly problematic. It seems I can have no go to brands to form the basis of an ethical wardrobe – it seems it is charity shop buys only until I can establish proof of ethics….
- Do you have any ethical fashion tips? Please share in the comments – I’m keen to learn and to know how best to test….