Ethical 366: The Audit

I have audited my wardrobe from top to bottom – not including at this time underwear or hosiery…

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Everything must go? Some of the items in the balance.

At this time I have a total of 256 items, which includes all non-underwear items or shoes (Shoes require their own separate audit) – gasp!

Of these items only a single item – a pair of trousers from Nepal – are Fairtrade. A further 9 items have been bought in charity shops previously. On top of this there are 69 gift items. Gulp. So far that’s all I can keep – largely sleepwear bought for me by my family – and I’m not really sure how my boss will react to me turning in for work in my fluffy bunny pyjamas (even with the super cute ears on top).

A lot of my wardrobe is now in the balance – are these items ethical? Of the remaining 177 items the biggest portion are from just eight high street and discount clothing retailers – a mass of 28 items from Primark, 16 items from H&M, 20 items from TU at Sainsbury’s, 18 from Next, 11 from F&F at Tesco, 9 from George at Asda, six from each of La Redoute and New Look.

So what is the ethical run down on this big eight?

Primark

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The official line:

Primark was one of the High Street chains drubbed in 2013 for buying clothing from the collapsed factory in Rana Plaza, which took the lives of more than 290 workers. Since then however Primark has a surprisingly on-the-front-foot approach to its ethics policy – its website boasts that it is working with a variety of partners including The Carbon Trust and the ethical trading initiative and is a signatory to such fashion wide ethical statements as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It even has a code of conduct which suppliers must follow to ensure that workers are paid and treated fairly based upon the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code.

The press line:

The ethical consumer website rates Primark a lowly 3 out of 20, the site citing the parent company’s tax avoidance strategies to be among the worst in the high street and, although laudable in its hard line on fair rights for workers in its direct suppliers, it has gaps further along the supply chain. Ethical consumer states: “The company scores a worst Ethical Consumer rating for its cotton supply chain policy. This is because, for instance, the company has no policy in place to avoid Uzbek cotton.

According to the Environmental Justice Foundation Uzbekistan was the third largest exporter of cotton in the world, and Europe was its major buyer. The group stated that forced child labour and human rights violations were “rife” in Uzbek cotton production. Due to the fact Primark did not state that it would not source from Uzbek it lost a mark in our workers’ rights category given that it was likely Uzbek cotton was used to make some of its products.

The Ethical 366 in or out?

Out. The ethical standard I am applying is – to be proven ethical – I can’t say that this is met by Primark at this time, even though it appears the company is making positive strides.

H&M

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The official line:

Again H&M has a very positive policy on its ethics – it reads: “Being ethical is about doing the right thing. This means respecting human rights, taking a clear stance against corruption and embracing diversity and inclusion. It also means, of course, to respect laws and regulations wherever we operate and to pay taxes accordingly.”

 

The press line:

In the last two weeks H&M has found itself in the heart of a story which shines a light on child laboru – specifically Syrian refugee child labour in Turkey – The Independent published details of a report by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), a non-profit organisation that monitors company ethics, which asked the major brands about their Turkish suppliers. To their credit the chain removed the children from the workforce and returned them to education.

The Ethical 366 in or out?

Again out – the scale upon which the company harvests fashion from around the world is industrial – although they seek out problems with child labour it is concerning that they have to be wise after the fact.

TU at Sainsbury’s

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The official line:

J Sainsbury, as with others has a shiny code of conduct and even promote their work with suppliers with a jolly colourful blog post – and even answering questions in a transparent fashion (see the comments section). All promising.

The press line:

Disappointingly Sainsbury’s was one of the companies caught up in this Daily Mirror exposé of low pay and excessive overtime.

The Ethical 366 in or out?

I’m out – Volume demands and supermarket timescales clearly make ensuring ethics too problematic.

Next

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The official line:

The Next corporate responsibility site makes promises which are framed as aspirations:  “As a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, Next work hard to pursue a code of ethical standards throughout its global supply chain, seeking to ensure the integrity of any product carrying the Next trademark and the welfare of all workers involved.

“Next identifies and engages with suppliers whose practices are consistent with our own code of ethical standards. Through our international audit team we work closely with our suppliers to help the achieve compliance.”

The press line:

Next PLC were one of the companies who identified child labour in it’s Turkish factories – demonstrating transparency and perhaps wisdom after the fact.

And in addition, although not around its clothing supply lines, Next failed to ensure that slavery wasn’t used within its supply chain in the UK according to reporting by The Yorkshire Post reporting on the jailing of one of the company’s suppliers in Dewsbury last week.

The Ethical 366 in or out?

Out, too many misses.

F&F at Tesco

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The official line:

Again a swish corporate responsibility site: “At F&F, we aim to be the world’s leading, affordable fashion retailer. We want to delight our customers with the quality products they love, sourced from suppliers we are both proud to work with and with whom we work in true partnership. We are a global brand, and we want to be a force for change in both reducing our social and environmental impact and confronting head on the challenges facing the fashion industry now and in the future.

Ethics and environmental issues are as important to us as they are to our customers, which is why we have made social and environmental targets integral to the way we work.”

 

The press line: Again Tesco, along with others was highlighted in the Daily Mirror Bangladesh overtime exposé. Although this apart it’s difficult to see any dirt on F&F.

The Ethical 366 in or out?

Out – the question mark is smaller than for others but still, it’s there.

George at Asda

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The official line:

The company’s ethical responsibility information boasts: “All factories used for George production must be ethically audited first before they are signed off to use for production. Once the audits are conducted a risk assessment process is carried out and factories are graded using a traffic light system.

We use independent third party auditors to conduct our audits, and also call upon a team of 140 colleagues within the Walmart ethical standards department not only to conduct audits but support supplier development by coaching and sharing of best practice and legislations.”

The press line:

Although there is no recent reporting specific to George at Asda this ethicalconsumer.org buyers guide released this month has named Asda the least ethical supermarket of all.

The Ethical 366 in or out?

The computer generated charts say no…out.

La Redoute

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The official line:

Just two lines in its terms and conditions and no reply to a tweet about #whomademyclothes

The press line:

About as much as the official line.

The Ethical 366 in or out?

Out. Too much mystery for me

New Look

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The official line:

The New Look Group ethical trading site is fairly honest – talking of ethics in terms of aspirations which will take work and effort: “It’s about providing quality jobs for the people who make our products. We speak to thousands of workers across our supply chain every year and work hard to meet their needs. We’ve been doing this since 1998. We’re really proud of the progress we’ve made since we started.

“We source our products from over 270 suppliers, from more than 860 factories across 28 countries. With almost 500,000 workers across our supply chain.

We ask all of our suppliers to sign up to our Ethical Aims. But we know we need to support our suppliers in achieving all of these aims.”

The press line:

Very little – there is this Guardian piece around the chain being part of a group of fashion companies pushing for better workers rights in Cambodia – however it must be noted that this must have been as the beneficiaries of low labour costs.

The Ethical 366 in or out?

Out

So, starting from scratch with 79 items – a large proportion of those being nightwear… What could possibly go wrong? Time to embrace the art of the capsule wardrobe methinks.

For more information on other high street stores in the United Kingdom visit the ethical consumer buyers guide, which helpfully tabulates key ethics measures against the 15 high street retailers with ethical policies – if they’re not on the list its likely because they haven’t much to say on the matter.

  • If you have any information on the ethical judgements I have made above I would be very happy to hear about it – contact me via the comments section – thank you! J
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5 comments

  1. I think this is such an amazing idea (can you tell I am stalking your blog now?) I really admire your efforts! There is no way I could just get rid of everything that is not ethical in my wardrobe, because as far as I am concerned, I have already bought it. I have however started only shopping in Charity shops

    Liked by 1 person

    • lilithinfurs · March 13, 2016

      Stalk away! I’m really interested in having the conversations- I really want to make sure my fashion choices only have good impact and to really test this i felt I wanted to make a commitment to the challenge – I’m still working out whether or not I recommend it!!

      Like

  2. Pingback: Ethical 366: Walk In My Shoes | Quiet Radicals
  3. StyleEyes (@StyleEyes) · March 29, 2016

    Great to see you are moving towards an ethical wardrobe. I agree with all of the shops yuo have discussed, they are not transparent enough. Although I have never bought from Primark, I did used to shop in some of the other high street shops and stopped doing so about 6 years ago. Rather than getting rid of items, I have replaced them as they have needed to be replaced with ethical alternatives and I now only buy vintage, second hand or from ethical/sustainable sources. It is actually a lot easier than you would expect as there are some pretty amazing ethical brands out there. It is also really easy to find second hand/ vintage online. For me one of the most important aspects of shopping ethically is buying clothes that last. Looking forward to following your ethical 366.

    Like

    • lilithinfurs · March 29, 2016

      Thank you so much! I applaud you in being ahead of the slow fashion curve which is now on the up. The biggest thing I’m finding is how easy it is to pick up quality clothes for tiny prices in charity shops – I realised the other day “I never have to buy cheap again”! My approach is very much to only buy what I love so I’m hoping they will last in style and substance!

      Like

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