What is a supply chain and how do you know that something is produced ethically?
In fashion, from seed to finished garment - every garment produced is part of what we call a supply chain. Cotton, for example, is grown, spun, woven into fabric, dyed, cut, manufactured, transported - all the steps along a fashion supply chain that are necessary to make a cotton sweatshirt available for you to buy. So when we talk about ethical fashion, it is imperative that we take a close look at the supply chain.
More specifically, we look at every process involved in making a garment and how people are treated at every stage of the supply chain. I recently read that the vast majority of workers who sew and make clothes are women, around 85% of them. The largest quantity of garments for the Western world is produced in China, India and Bangladesh. This means that most "sweat factories" are also located in these countries. A sweat factory is a production facility where workers endure long hours of underpaid work in poor and insecure conditions.
So how do you find out if something is done ethically?
A good indicator is always the price. If the price tag on a T-shirt says 5€ or you can get a pair of jeans for 10€. Think about it, how do you think it is possible to get a garment so cheap?
In a 5€ T-shirt you will find the cost of the company that made the garment, the workers' wages and the profit of the company for which they were made. If a T-shirt costs less than lunch, that's a problem.
But the fact that something is expensive does not mean that it is ethical. A few years ago, theguardian.com began reporting on how abuse is a daily reality for female garment workers in these countries.
Last year we saw workers from the luxury sportswear brand Lululemon being abused and beaten. The leggings these women made cost €98. So if a low price is clearly an indicator and high costs are no guarantee of a fair and healthy working environment, what then? Transparency is the key. If a brand has worked hard to ensure that its supply chain is ethical, they will be proud of it and make it accessible to consumers.
The best thing is to ask questions. Take a close look at their websites or send an e-mail to be sure. If a brand has nothing to hide, they will be happy to send you the information you are looking for. As I said before, they are proud of it.
- where are my clothes made?
- who made my clothes?
- what is done for the safety of workers?
- is the wage high enough to ensure livelihood?
- can you prove it?
What we can do: Choose the next garment carefully. Knowledge is power. You think you are too small to make a difference? Awareness is always the first step. Let's keep going in the right direction.