A factory in Bangladesh collapsed. Many, many people died and for a few weeks people cared. People started talking about the conditions faced by those who actually make our clothes.
It’s a good bet that many of you recycle your waste, grow the odd vegetable and perhaps even own a reusable coffee cup, and you should feel good about that. We should all be socially responsible and it’s great that local government has progressively made recycling part of our daily lives, it’s great that companies like Ideal Cup exist to turn our waste into useful products. But being socially responsible isn’t so easy when it comes to the clothes on your back.
A Complicated Scenario
Ethical clothing is a complicated issue. It’s not just the conditions of those sewing the garments together, there’s also the raw materials to consider and the conditions and practices of the farmers producing the cotton used in garment manufacture. You don’t want to – and most likely can’t – afford to travel the world to inspect the conditions your t-shirts were made in.
The clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh back in April killed more than a thousand people and put a spotlight on the sad fact that people in poorer countries often risk their lives working in unsafe conditions to make the clothes that you, I, and many other Westerners covet.
This latest Bangladesh disaster followed a fire in another Bangladesh factory in November 2012 that killed 112 people and in May 2013 a concrete walkway collapsed in a Cambodian shoe factory killing two people. I think it’s fair to say that the true cost of clothing isn’t the one displayed on the price tag in store.
You might think that these are issues that better relate to giant U.S. based retailers such as GAP and Wal-Mart. Maybe it’ll surprise you to learn that The Warehouse, Kmart and other New Zealand retailers have their t-shirts, sweatshirts and other clothing manufactured in Bangladesh too. What is even more surprising is that Kmart and other New Zealand retailers have refused to sign an accord on fire and safety in Bangladesh factories. An accord that has been signed by a few international chains, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Marks & Spencer, Zara and others, but there are many more that refuse. The accord represents a legally binding agreement where retailers would be partially liable when there’s a factory fire, a safety inspection disqualification or building failure and would have to contribute to the repair bill.
People, Not Profits
This is disturbing for socially conscious New Zealanders. It’s nearly impossible to make sure that the clothes you buy come from factories with safe working conditions and even harder to understand the conditions in which the cotton was harvested and grown. Major chain retailers and fashion labels typically use a complex web of suppliers that contract business to other factories. This means that retailers and brands themselves often have no idea of the origin of their clothes.
Even labels that say “Made in NZ” provide little assurance. Sure, the workers that assemble the garment here may have good working conditions, but the fabric might have been woven in appalling conditions overseas and the cotton growers themselves may have been paid an unfair sum in their quest to compete in a hugely competitive market.
But big business is about big money and there’s little incentive to do more and have a social conscience when there is little demand for it. Until we demand social responsibility from the retailers and brands we purchase from, there is little chance that we’ll see any significant change anytime soon. In short, I truly believe there needs to be a focus on people, not profits and we, the consumer need to drive this.
What Makes Us Different
We recognise we have a responsibility to all workers producing products or services for us. We believe that good workplace standards, decent health and safety requirements, fair pay and conditions, and care for the environment are important elements in business success.
How do we ensure our garments are made in ethical, sustainable conditions? All the cottons and fabrics used to produce Ethcs garments are grown, cut and sewn in W.R.A.P certified facilities. W.R.A.P is an independent, objective, non-profit team of global social compliance experts dedicated to promoting safe, lawful, humane, and ethical production and manufacturing around the world through certification and education.
We guarantee our products are sweat-shop free and produced in ethical work conditions.