Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Ethical Fashion... whats it all about and why should YOU care!!

We live in a consumer society, where we are constantly buying products and clothing, to make us feel happy and look good. Most of us shop without thinking about the ingredients in our clothing or about where the product was made and by whom.

Each one of us everyday is connected to people we will never meet, who live in places we will never visit. With every trip to the supermarket, bank, each sip of coffee we take another connection is made.

Decisions about how we trade or buy, not only affect our lives, but the lives of the people who made our products too.

A new generation of consumers, are starting to raise questions about how there products are made, and due to this demand ethical and Eco friendly companies, products are becoming more widely available.

New ethical and Eco friendly brands are starting to hit the world of fashion with there products, but how do they manage their supply chain to produce environmentally sustainable, Eco friendly, and responsible collections? Is it possible to develop and produce a commercially viable collection in the current economic climate, whilst considering all these aspects

What is Ethical Trade?

Ethical Trade ensures that:-
• Living wages are paid (above countries Min. Wage)
• No Child Labour is used
• Working Hours are not excessive
• Overtime is voluntary and paid
• No Discrimination (gender, race, religious background)
• Working conditions comply with health and safety
• Workers are allowed to form trade unions.

What are Sweat Shops?
Sweat Shops are:-
A manufacturing workplace that treats its workers inhumanely by:-,
• Paying low wages, below countries minimum wage
• Failing to pay a living wage.
• Imposing harsh and unsafe working conditions,
• Demanding levels of performance that are harmful to the workers.
• Enforcing Unpaid Overtime
• Where Workers are not allowed to form unions and speak up and enforce their ethical rights.

Who are the workers in sweatshops?

• Immigrant workers from poor rural villages
• Young women
Sweat Shops exist mainly in China!
130 Million Chinese peasants, mostly young women have left their villages in search for jobs in the globalized economy.

90% of sweatshops hire young women aged 14-30, Workers below the age of 16 carry fake ID cards, enabling them to work.
They hire young women because they are in their physical prime and can endure the fast pace of assembly work. They hire women that are submissive and docile, because they are easier to control physically and mentally, they become oppressed both at home and at work.

What are Free Trade Zones?
Why do Sweatshops exist in China?

China is a Free Trade Zones which means:-
• They don't have to pay ANY taxes
• No import/ export tariffs,
• No environmental laws,
• No labour lawyers,
• No workers unions (Illegal),
• No health and safety inspectors.

Chinese Villagers comprise the world’s largest pool of cheap labour and are the main producers of clothes and other commodities for western consumers.

Another reason why china is the main source of production in the west, is the cost of labour!

Cost of Labour per hour around the world:-
• Germany £31.25
• USA £21.97
• UK £20.70
• Japan £20.09
• Italy £18.35
• Korea £10.28
• Czech £4.71
• Mexico £2.24
• China £0.64
• Sri Lanka £0.49
So if labour is so cheap then why do sweatshops still exist?

Squeezing Wages in China
‘The Manufactures bid against each other to drive down the price, at every level the contractor and subcontractor extracts their small profit. At the end of the bid down it’s the worker with the squeezed down pay check. The multinationals squeezes down the subcontractors, the subcontractors squeeze down the workers.’
Beirstein Aaron, 98, ‘The wage Squeeze’, USA business week pages 25-62.

To gain a better understanding of the outbid for cheap labour, we can look at the ethical pyramid.
1.The Consumer
At the top of the pyramid is us, the consumer, clothes are cheap and they’ve never been cheaper, we expect high quality clothing for a low low price!

2.The Retailer
Retailers therefore are obliged to cater for the demand of the consumer. For high quality product at a low price.

Retailers find suppliers to find the cheapest, fastest, way of getting the clothes they want at the price they want.


The Supplier hires a subcontractor to find the cheapest factories that can make the order they want at the time they want it.

Factories in China compete with each other to cut prices down in order to get orders.

The factory that wins the bid, take an order, at a price and timescale they couldn’t afford, which means the workers wages are cut and the only way the order will get to the retailer in time, is if the workers work overtime, unpaid to meet the deadline!

Production factories run most of the risks of a products success and make the smallest profit.

What are the retailer’s requirements?
According to Wallmart, there requirements for sourcing offshore are:-
Retailers Requirements:-
• Products that are appealing and at a good quality.
• At a Competitive Price
• Good Production Management
• Adaptable to there needs and the needs of the market.
• Ship 100% on time, 100% of the time
• Flexible
• Cheap

• In a country of free trade, competition is extremely high.
The major brands demand such low standard prices, and such high quality that factories must violate International Labour Standards.
A factory that allowed its workers adequate rest and paid minimum wages couldn’t compete.

Socially Ethically Compliant????
How do Multinationals check factories to prove they are ethical?
Companies like Wall-Mart, inspect factories and talk to workers about there working conditions, giving them codes of conduct to adhere too.

Why this doesn’t work
• There are no independent Audit groups to check factories.
• There are no health and safety regulations by law, to protect workers.
• Factories are given advance notice for the inspectors visit.
• Workers are trained to lie about working conditions.
• They lie about overtime and wage per hour.

The reason behind the lies and why the workers are too scared to speak up for fear of orders not coming in and loosing there jobs.

Why don’t factory workers leave?
• Life for the factory workers is tough working 8AM- 9PM, 7 days a week, overtime is unpaid and can go on all night.
• Workers live in small rooms with up to 8 people sharing bunk beds, food and water are all deducted from there wages.
• Fines are taken out of there wages for lateness, talking, laughing and sleeping on the job. Anyone who is too slow is fired.
• In China strikes and unions are illegal, so if workers speak out they can face re-education camp and will loose there jobs.

The risks of no money, no job and a possible prison sentence, leaves the workers with no choice but to stay and work in these harsh conditions.

What can we do?
If we go back to the pyramid, we know we (the consumer) have the power of making a change.

Fair Trade!
Fair trade ensures that producers in developing countries can look forward to receiving a fair price, without being exploited!

An example of this would be:-
The Bali institute
A charity i worked for in India, that helps women from lower cast, rural villages in some of the countries poorest areas. The women from the villages have never been to school and learnt how to read and write, they have No Knowledge in health and hygiene, and are trained by the school for 6 months how to read, write, to look after themselves and there families and how to make money, to work there way out of poverty.
Fair trade helps to support charities that help workers living in to work themselves out of poverty.

Making a difference in the way we trade and buy, in order to help workers in developing countries is not easy.
But we can start buy trying to buy fair trade clothing, stamped with a fair trade logo.

Sustainable and environmental design
What is Environmental Sustainability?

Environmental sustainability is the ability to maintain the qualities that are valued in the physical environment.

Principles of sustainable design
• Low-impact materials: choose non-toxic, sustainably-produced or recycled materials which require little energy to process
Energy efficiency: use manufacturing processes and produce products which require less energy
• Quality and durability: longer-lasting and better-functioning products will have to be replaced less frequently, reducing the impacts of producing replacements
• Design for reuse and recycling: "Products, processes, and systems should be designed for performance in a commercial 'afterlife'."[4]
• Design Impact Measures for total earth footprint and life-cycle assessment for any resource use are increasingly required and available.

Organic Clothing
If clothing listed ingredients in the way food does, pesticides, dodgy labour standards and toxic chemicals would be high on the list.

• Cotton Kills!
Cotton is the world’s most sprayed crop, using _ of the world’s pesticides causing 200,000 people to die each year as a result

Organic Cotton
Organic cotton is grown without the use of pesticides, farmers and producers in developing countries save money, which go towards the health and education of their families.

Out of the alternatives we see a new generation of brands and designer labels formed based on the positive values of ethics:-


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