Do the Clothes You Wear Wear Out the World?

“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness”- Mahatma Gandhi

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The term ethical fashion refers to clothing that has been created satisfying the set standards regarding labour and human rights, not at expense of workers in global supply chains; fair trade fashion involves supporting the lives of these workers and creating social development. However, the fast fashion phenomenon and mass production have made it extremely hard for the fashion industry to stop and think about these issues, as brands are competing against each other by creating more and more lines per season at much lower costs, putting a huge pressure on the supply chain.

Recently, refugee children have been found working in supply-chain factories of international fashion brands. This has obviously caused a huge outrage in the fashion industry- where do the clothes we buy come from? Investigators have found Syrian refugee children making clothes for the online retailer ASOS and the British brand M&S in some of their factories in Turkey, working extremely long hours and earning as little as 1 pound an hour. What is more, the labour conditions are awfully poor, as could be expected.

However, Marks & Spencer and ASOS are not the only stores found employing refugees- high street brand Next admitted to have identified child labour in some of its supply chains and adult’s refugees were also found working on a jeans’ factory for the Spanish brands Zara and Mango. Turkey’s proximity to Europe and the recent wave of refugees entering the country only contribute to aggravating this problem, as it allows brands to effectively solve any last minute complications still having their clothes ready in stores on time. Poor workers’ rights issues and the complexity of the supply chain is also making it harder for brands to deliver their production in Asia, which has overridden Turkey’s main competitors, China, Cambodia and Bangladesh. 

All these events and accusations have led brands to investigate their supply chains and undertake more exhaustive inspections over their factories. Many of the fashion retailers assure the factories were operating without their knowledge and consequently, were not aware of the labour conditions. However, shouldn’t international companies be able to undertake a more exhaustive control over their products and the places their production process take place? Yet, it is sometimes easier to look the other way and filter the events we want to see, focusing on producing as much as possible at a low cost- the disposability of fashion in this day and age has created a necessity for fashion brands to renew their stock almost every 4 weeks to keep up with the latest trends. 

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However, despite these recent accusations to the fashion industry, The Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation, believes the fashion industry is making huge progress in transparency of their whole production process.  Many clothing companies are trying to bring production back to Europe to be able to have better control over the manufacture of their products. The forum also provides its readers with a list of the leading ethical high street shops- taking into account several factors, from environmental reports of the company to irresponsible marketing strategies. 

According to The Ethical Consumer, despite recent allegations of child labour, M&S is the high street clothes store where we should be buying our clothes although it scored very low on the production of its food products in areas such as animal testing and factory farmed meat. Furthermore, ASOS is the recommended e-tailer, without taking into consideration all the alternative smaller ethical and sustainable boutiques. 

Even though we are definitely making a progress towards a more ethical approach to fashion, there is still much to be done and more awareness need to be raise among consumers and the whole world as fashion involves all of us, those who make and those who wear the clothes.