How do fashion labels treat the people who make our clothes?

25 Mar

@sssukiii brings us an insightful infographic to encourage us to think critically about what we buy: Ethical Fashion Guide.


Click on the Ethical Fashion Guide link at the top of the page to open the guide. The red sewing machines indicate better policies.

A few months ago I  read this horrifying article about the corruption surrounding the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh. Workers sewing clothes for Walmart, Sears and MJ Soffe, were told to sit at their machines after a fire alarm sounded. As they’d never had a fire drill practice before, most of the workers did as they were told, until smoke started spiralling up the stairs. There was no fire escape. Then the lights went out. Many tried to escape through the windows, which were blocked by grates. By chance some were able to escape by climbing down a web of flimsy scaffolding that builders had left by the building.

The complexity of supply chains and the income they bring to families and third world nations makes it all too easy to ignore the lack of information about the conditions our clothes are made in. When we feel compelled to find out more, that same hand wringing complexity may leave us wondering where to buy our clothes. Garments account for 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s total export earnings; it is virtually the nation’s only industry. It also has the lowest labour costs of all the garment’s producing countries in the world.

Improving labour conditions may change this, making the country less attractive to organisations like Walmart, which is one of the biggest buyers of clothes made in the region. The fact that responsible practices are so relative is why it’s now more important than ever for brands to ensure they’re transparent and clear about the conditions their products are made in.

We decided that some kind of visual and easy to understand guide was needed to help people make sense of how brands are responding to socially conscious consumers. Two organisations working to raise awareness of how companies are improving labour conditions are and Netherlands based,

Rank a Brand have several criteria which they use to score brands on their labour conditions, accounting for things such as whether:

–       companies have a code of conduct, outlining hygienic conditions and standards against forced child labour and discrimination.

–       their workers can join trade unions

–       their factories are audited and audit information is responded to

–       they aim to improve labour conditions as a wider organisation

This straightforward system, which aligns with the structure of a basic code of conduct, was ideal for creating a visual tool to compare how ethical brands are.

The graphic we’ve created shows how little high-end brands invest in demonstrating their integrity despite being all about image. Several exclusive brands, including Paul Smith and Dior, stand out for the lack of information they offer consumers about how their clothes were made. A few such as Burberry claim to use British suppliers, however, as they haven’t felt the need to tell us who these suppliers are, or the conditions they work in, they have been placed at the dubious end of the scale.

Company practices are of course always changing, so the graphic functions as a snap shot of what industry is currently doing. Rank a Brand’s research shows how vastly brands differ in the way they’re improving labour conditions and how relative these ethical practices are. Being able to compare these visually may help people make a more informed, if not ideal, choice.

In this sense, simply boycotting brands may not the answer. Pressure needs to be put on improving ethical supply chains. So if you discover that your clothes were made in bad conditions why not turn that shame into action by contacting the company who made them?

By @sssukiii


9 Responses to “How do fashion labels treat the people who make our clothes?”

  1. Michelle March 26, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    I love this, shocking to see how little many of the premium brands are doing!

    I agree boycotting isn’t the best solution but I think it can help make companies take notice. I recently cancelled my LoveFilm subscription because I found out they are owned by Amazon, who don’t allow their employees to join trade unions (among other things..). The lady from LoveFilm I spoke to was definitely aware of the situation, which gave me hope others have done the same!

    • NaturalWoman March 26, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

      Hi Michelle, thanks for reading and commenting. Good for you for phoning LoveFilm. It’s great to take action. I (Joanna) love this guide too.

    • NaturalWoman March 26, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

      I was particularly surprised to see Viv Westwood at the end of the scale. Maybe she should spend less time wearing Assange-loving T-shirts and more time focusing on the rights of workers in her supply chain’s factories.

  2. TheGirl March 28, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    This is old news. Abuse in factories overseas has been happening since the turn of the century (1900s). I mean alot of times that’s why fires and other accidents happen, its because the buildings are not up to code, staff work very long hours with minimal breaks…even the parking lots and surrounding areas are dangerous, in South America and Mexico its not uncommon for female employees to be sexually assaulted when coming to and from factory jobs and the company doesn’t provide security.

    • NaturalWoman March 29, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      Thanks for reading and commenting, The Girl. I hadn’t heard about the situation in factories in South and Central America – that’s horrendous!

      You’re right. it’s old news in the sense that exploitation has been happening for decades. Sadly, few of the privileged people that buy and wear the clothes made by workers in such horrendous conditions (myself included) have ever done much about it. I think it’s useful to remind people what exactly they’re buying and encourage them to take action.

      • TheGirl March 29, 2013 at 12:29 pm #


  3. NaturalWoman April 28, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Petition to three British retailers to ensure the safety of their workers and compensate the families of those who died in the factory collapse last week:


  1. Game changer for Bangladeshi clothing workers | Women's Views on News - May 22, 2013

    […] to the ‘If you tolerate this then your daughters will be next’ blog, the Bangladeshi garment industry accounts for over 80 per cent of the country’s […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: