With 80 billion garments produced worldwide every year, there is no questioning that the fashion industry is one of the largest in the industrialised economy. But with this comes the issues surrounding production – who made the garment, in what conditions and what were they paid. Then there are the added issues of what chemicals were pumped into the environment in the process of making that garment, for example the dye from denim jeans.
With the rise of fast fashion brands and the competitive environment of fashion retail, the 21st century consumer is guilty of putting aside ethical thoughts and focusing more on their purses. Companies are now becoming more savvy, and a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy is a common sight on many company profiles. A CSR strategy is a way for businesses to communicate the steps that they are taking to ensure their employees, customers and suppliers are treated fairly, and that they are taking into account the effects that their manufacturing processes have on the environment.
Britain, especially the North, used to be home to hundreds of textile mills and factories. Now it is a rare sight to see, as the fashion and textile industry has moved offshore. There are just a handful of these factories left, which have been running through generations for as long as most can remember. All Saints, the UK fashion brand, has recently released a short documentary entitled “Voices of the Cloth”. Shot in the Yorkshire town of Huddersfield, where most of the All Saints woven textiles are manufactured, the documentary is a short insight into the life of the people behind the textiles. The film is a touching 4 minutes, with the workers proud of their heritage and the job which some have been working for an impressive 49 years.
However, working in a textile mill is not usually this kind of life style, and for workers in poorer countries their quality of life can be shocking. From workers not being paid a fair living wage and having no toilet facilities, to being given no safety masks when sandblasting jeans, it is imperative that people start to realise what kind of conditions are endured to make the fast fashion world go round. The movement of manufacturing abroad is mainly cost driven – it is much cheaper for the company to outsource the manufacturing of their products to another country. But this has meant a decline in ethical awareness for the retailers, which is becoming more of an issue recently.
With the rise of the internet, there are many more doors open for people to research what is happening in other countries. Programmes and reports are being streamed worldwide, such as the Panorama documentary “Primark on the rack”, aired in 2008. For this reason, major retailers now include ethical sourcing within their company, which is illustrated within their CSR strategy. So have a look around at your favourite retailers’ websites. There should be a corporate section, and their strategies (or lack of) can be an eye-opener.