How much do we know about our clothes and who makes them? Are the garment workers who create them paid a living wage? Are they safe and well-treated? Or are they children working under slave-like conditions? Sometimes it pays to look at the real cost of the clothes we buy.
What’s the problem?
When it comes to human rights, the fashion industry’s report card doesn’t make for good reading. The garment industry turns over $1.2 trillion a year, yet millions of garment workers are some of the most abused, poorly paid and exploited in the world. Human rights abuses are systemic in the industry, with poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, repression of trade union rights and short term contracts all commonplace. Almost all garment workers are women (80%), who have a low level of formal education, often have a migration background and earn as little as $21 a month.
Because the industry has a notorious lack of transparency, it is hard to hold fashion brands accountable for the work practices taking place in their source factories and for consumers to be able to make ethical purchases, even from so-called ethical clothing companies.
Events like the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013, in which 1,135 garment workers, who mainly worked making clothes for western high-street retailers, died, are tragic reminders of the responsibility clothing producers and consumers have, to ensure the people who make our clothes are treated fairly and with dignity.
Who is working to improve this?
The Clean Clothes Campaign is a global network dedicated to improving working conditions in the garment industry. It consists of 250 trade unions, women, labour and human rights organisations based in countries where production takes place and in countries that import and consume garments. It educates and mobilises consumers, lobbies companies and governments, and supports workers as they fight for their rights.
Labour Behind the Label is a UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry. It raises awareness, conducts research and lobbies in support of workers demands for improved pay and conditions.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity and is mandated by the international community to promote and protect all human rights. It undertakes research, offers leadership, educates and empowers states to uphold human rights.
What can I do?
Before buying, check the company’s website. By ‘ethical’ some ‘ethical retailers’ may mean that their fabrics are sustainably sourced, rather than that their products are created by workers receiving a fair and living wage. Seek out companies who state their commitment to and progress on ensuring their garments are made in factories that protect the rights of vulnerable workers on their website.
Get informed: read up on the latest information from reputable sources like Clean Clothes Campaign to find out what progress is being made and what brands are improving their commitment to fair working conditions.
Share information on social media, sign petitions and donate to non-profit organisations working to improve conditions for garment workers all over the world.
Shirts with Buttons
Shirts with Buttons is a reputable and trusted business committed to offering its customers high quality, ethical clothing for men and women. We recognise our obligations to ensure that all our suppliers are operating ethically and we will never knowingly purchase from countries and companies that do not. Our ethical shirts are all manufactured in European factories that comply with all regulations including:
- Minimum age of employment
- Health and safety
- Freedom of association
- No discrimination
- No harsh or inhumane treatment
- Working hours
- Rates of pay
- Terms of employment
Images courtesy of The Guardian, Labour Behind the Label plus from Stuart Miles and stockimages via FreeDigitalPhotos.net.