How well do you know your favourite clothing brands and their impact on animals, the environment, and human rights?
Here are some important things to consider in order to be an ethical consumer.
Each year, each season, fashion brands are introducing hundreds and hundreds of trends, alluring their customers to keep on shopping the entire year. What we bought for last summer could be old fashioned by this year.
Many of us have our favourite brands and tend to stick with a few brands that we adore. We might follow their websites, like their FB pages, check on new arrivals, sales, and discounts. Sometimes, we might make a splash on something special. There is nothing wrong with spoiling ourselves occasionally – right?
Yet have you ever considered whether you’re paying for the actual cost of the product? Why are some brands ridiculously expensive? Where are these brands made? Are the workers who make them well paid? Are these brands free from environment-polluting substances?
Next time, before you venture into the shopping centres, do a Google search to find out more about your favourite brands.The clothing we buy reflects our personal values, and it is always good to be informed about a brand’s impact on what we care about – whether it’s human rights, the environment, or animals.
Environmental implications of the fashion industry
Fashion comes at a dollar price – but why should it be at the cost of the environment? The global garment industry is known to be the second most polluting industry in the world after oil, and the third most harmful for climate change. The production of cotton, one of the most popular and versatile fibres used in clothing manufacturing, is said to have a significant impact on environment.
Nearly USD 2.6 billion worth of pesticides are sprayed on cotton fields each year. That is 10% of the total pesticides used worldwide – according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). To cater for the fast moving fashion industry, the demand for synthetic fibres, especially polyester, has nearly doubled in the last 15 years. In the production of polyester and other synthetic fabrics, an energy-intensive process is required, resulting in large amounts of crude oil usage, and the releasing of emissions including volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride. This has caused enormous destruction to habitats, while the toxic chemicals and waste from clothing manufacturing are silently destroying the waterways.
Should we choose fashion over the environment? We cannot give up wearing clothes, but we can certainly influence the brands to take measures to eliminate hazardous chemicals, e.g., phthalates, and amines from azo dies (linked to cancer), reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time, and encourage waste minimisation.
The impact on animals
Fast moving fashion not only harms the environment but also the animals. Perhaps you might not know that animals are frequently ill-treated in the production of angora (mohair), cashmere, silk, and wool, among others.Poor sheep go through immeasurable amount of pain during the winter having sacrificed their winter coats for you to wear that cosy wool jumper. Next time when you go shopping for winter clothes, check whether your brands are free from fur, mohair leather, or animal testing.
Above everything, we should know whether the people who make our clothes are treated with dignity and respect. It is not that surprising to notice that most of the expensive brands are made in third world countries like Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. Why? The answer is these super brands cannot make huge profits if they hire labour within their own country! The labour standards in developed countries are higher than those of the low income counties. Who would agree to work 13 hours per day for just $3 in a developed country? Instead, these companies either set up supply chains or subcontract from those poor countries with cheap labour.
Even though the image of a brand in shopping centre outlets might be breathtaking, the supply chains can be nothing but a sweatshop. Your favourite brands might not be treating their employees in a nice way. The harsh truth is most of the garment factories do not pay a decent living wage for their workers. They turn a blind eye on health and safety at work; sometimes even human rights violations. While working with some of these women I discovered that some employers even restrict young newly married women from getting pregnant. How can that be ok?!
How can we let our favourite brands treat their workers with such cruelty?
If the brands are being dodgy all in the name of fashion, can we remain silent? It is part of our responsibility to make sure that the brands we buy run their businesses ethically. You might think that this is beyond your control. But it is fairly simple to research and find a bit of information about your favourite brands. You can investigate whether the brands have transparency in their dealings. Do they have a code of conduct on ethical sourcing? Have they signed important conventions and trade agreements? Some examples may be the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and ILO conventions. Further to signing conventions, the brands should be able to make a genuine commitment to ensure acceptable working standards for their staff and product sustainability.
Next time, try to shop wisely. Buy things from those brands that are free from animal cruelty, that are environmentally friendly, and that ensure labour rights. Have your say on social media. Let your brands know that you care!
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