Of course you aren’t hiring children, at least not on purpose. But are you sure? The reality is that unless you’re buying fair trade clothing, you can’t be confident that your clothes have not been made by a child or in a sweatshop. While there are few fair trade options available for consumers today, this may change soon.
What makes fair trade difficult in the clothing industry is the long supply chain from supplier to store shelf. Unlike commodity products such as coffee and tea, an auditor can’t go directly to the source of an article of clothing. This is because the clothing is often assembled from pieces that were made by multiple factories. Complicating matters further is the fact that many clothing factories sub-contract work to small suppliers who may themselves hire other contractors to help fill demand.
This has made it easy for the fashion industry and retailers to claim ignorance about the working conditions of those who make the clothing they sell. However, highly publicized disasters such as the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed over 1,000 in April, 2013 have made it increasingly difficult to ignore the dangerous working conditions suffered by people earning less than $40 a month to make clothing for consumers in developed countries.
Due to consumer awareness and demands for more transparency, many fashion brands are now starting to provide information about where their clothing is made and the workers who have made it. As discussed in a 2008 Harvard/MIT study, consumers have demonstrated that they are willing to pay a premium for clothing that has been made fairly.
While there may not be a lot of fair trade fashion options on store shelves today, there are things that we can do now to make our voices heard and motivate brands to begin offering fair trade clothing.
- Visit change.org and sign the petition asking fashion brands to invest 1% of their profits to end abuses in their supply chains .
- Go to GoodGuide or GreenAmerica to see how apparel companies rank in their approach to fairness and sustainability in their supply chains.
- If you’re a socially responsible investor, reward ethical companies with your business and your investments.
Thank you for putting your money where your heart is!