A variety of initiatives are emerging to meet the demand from consumers for ethical products and services such as organic and Fairtrade certified cotton, 'wash at 30 degrees' labels, Product (RED), Marks & Spencer's 'Plan A', Estethica @ London Fashion Week and the Ethical Trading Initiative.
These different responses from the fashion industry vary. Some brands manufacture clothes ethically because of a deep-seated commitment and others are marketing themselves as ethical in order to chase the 'ethical pound'. Some companies are seeking to transform the whole industry by making the more 'ethical' option the rule rather than the exception and are looking at the whole way they do business. Other responses could be considered niche - these could be small 'alternative brands' or initiatives of major fashion retailers, such as organic and Fairtrade certified cotton lines in many high street stores that only affect one or two product lines. 'Ethical' encompasses a broad range of concerns, and products that tick one box might have completely overlooked another important issue: Who made those recycled trainers and did they earn a living wage? Some companies are making a genuine effort to challenge the way the fashion industry currently operates, others are more hype than substance. Consumers need to look behind the marketing, do their research and make up their own mind about a company's ethical credentials.
- Explore the different fashion industry responses and whether they are improving conditions for garment workers in the Fashioning an Ethical Industry Discussion Paper: Ethical consumerism.
- Read about whether alternative, ethical and fairly traded brands are ensuring that the workers' rights laid down in the International Labour Organisations conventions are being protected in Factsheet 14: Ethical and fairly traded fashion.
- Learn more about what the specific brands are doing around labour rights on the Clean Clothes Campaign website.
- An important element of buying ethically is engaging with companies and putting pressure on them. This can be as simple as asking in your favourite high street store what the company is doing to ensure the rights of the workers' who make their clothes are respected, or it can involve writing letters, taking part in a campaign action or joining a group such as Labour Behind the Label. For more action ideas see: www.labourbehindthelabel.org/do
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