British fashion brands don’t have the best rep for ethical manufacture. In light of this, Flo Friis asks: Is it impossible to be ethical on a high-street fashion budget?

UK high street brands have recently been found hiring children as young as 14, and paying them as little as 13p an hour in Myanmar. Brands include H&M, New look and Lonsdale.

Both H&M and New Look are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, whose base code clearly states that employers will not hire children and will pay the living wage. With such limited information available to consumers, how can we make ethical fashion choices if even the brands who acknowledge the importance of this are failing? 

The issue

We’re all aware of the ethical and sustainable issues that surround fashion. Stories of factory disasters or exposes of horrendous treatment of workers are far too common in global news. Once a shopper has decided enough is enough and they wish to do something about it, where can they go, what do they have the power to do? 

I studied a Fashion Buying and Merchandising degree and was shocked by how little importance was placed on the human rights and fair treatment of workers. We barely touched base on it. It was something that was seen as the students’ personal interest to find out more about, rather than a necessity.

What I did learn was how complex a fashion supply chain is. With fast fashion becoming the norm and shops releasing new collections on a weekly basis, it’s no wonder brands struggle to trace ethical issues. It’s seen as an ‘extra’ when a brand has ethical interest – a unique selling point, or bonus points to the companies Corporate Social Responsibility. 

If that’s the case for industry leaders and those studying the industry, how can we as shoppers make responsible decisions on where to buy our clothes? Fashion brands themselves can’t even trace their supply chains!

Ethical Trading Initiative

When I decided I had to do more to become a more responsible shopper, I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t have (and still don’t have) the means to start buying from praised ethical brands as their prices are just too high. I had to remain on the high street, but educate myself more on where to go.

Is It Impossible To Be Ethical On A High-Street Fashion Budget

When I found the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) I was elated. This is a list of members who have signed up to be compliant with the ETI base code and follow their regulations. It included some of my favourite brands such as Zara, H&M and Asos. I stopped shopping from all brands that weren’t on the list, or didn’t feature any information about their supply chain and ethical responsibilities on their website. 

But the more I learnt about this subject, the more I realised my efforts simply weren’t enough.

Not good enough

Time and time again I see brands who have made these agreements fall short and become involved in unethical practices. Excuses always seem to be along the lines that the brand didn’t know they were producing in this particular unethical factory as their supplier had outsourced the work to another unaudited factory to ensure garments were produced by the given deadline.

Although these excuses sound ridiculous, it is sadly inevitable due to the way we consume fashion.

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The rise of social media and technology has catapulted trends in a way never seen before. With advances such as live streaming catwalks and fashion blogging, the average shopper is more aware than ever of the trends they want to be following. The high street has to react and change constantly – in order to do this it needs to produce clothing at lightning speed or it will simply miss out on a trend and it’s products will become obsolete. 

Is It Impossible To Be Ethical On A High-Street Fashion Budget

What CAN we do? 

If you, like me, feel lost and frustrated by this situation you’ll be looking for this paragraph to give you some answers and some pointers. Well sadly I’m not sure any more. Actual solutions seem to be lacking. At the very least, there are some amazing people and brands to follow on Twitter to make sure you’re keeping yourself educated and in the loop about these issues such as:

The fact of the matter is we need to be completely revolutionise the way we buy clothing.

We need to be more vocal. Let the brands you buy from know that you need more information. Where do they manufacture their clothes? Who’s making your garments and how are they treated? One country stated in our clothing labels simply isn’t enough to decide whether this garment meets our ethical standards. Demand more from the brands who make profit in the millions from our sales.

Knowledge is power. The more we know and the more transparent we make supply chains, the clearer the picture becomes. After this, it’s down to you. YOU have the ability to decide with your money, how the people who made your clothes are treated. 

Do you have any advice for ethical fashion shoppers? Or is it impossible to be ethical on a high-street fashion budget? PLEASE tell us in the comments below – it’s a problem we’re dying to solve.

 

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