Ethics in Fashion
Ethics in fashion Brands such as Hollister, Superdry and Jack Wills are in high demand at the moment. These fashion giants make billions of pounds a year selling top of the range clothing, specifically designed for 14-18 year olds. These brands all follow strict ethical policies, for example Jack Wills is part of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which is an alliance of companies working together to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable workers in the countries in which these clothes are produced.
Although over half of Britain’s consumers think that the ethical production of the clothes they buy is important many companies cast a blind eye towards the production environment of their clothes. Their workers may have decent working conditions, get paid fair wages most of the time. A problem is the conditions and wages of other workers, who may not be directly employed to the company. These are called sub-contractors. Such things often take place in third world, developing countries, and are usually a first step for industrialising economies.
This has already resulted in widespread poverty reduction, access to skills and sustainable livelihoods for some of the most disadvantaged communities in the world. For example, in Bangladesh 70% of GDP (gross domestic product) comes from the fashion industry. However it is not just the production of these clothes that makes the public question their morals, problems have arisen within the stores. In August 2011 Hollister were charged with discrimination towards one of their Muslim employees, who was criticised for wearing a hijab in store.
Months later two stores in America were noticed for not following the Disabilities Act, due to the fact that they have a porch-like entrance that contains steps while customers in wheelchairs have to access the stores through automatic side doors rather than the main entrance. Customers felt that they were being ‘separated’. Furthermore, in November 2010, Hollister prevented an employee from wearing a red poppy into work. This sparked controversy, and attracted unwanted attention from the media.
Human rights activists have also pointed out the various ethical issues behind the preparation of fashion products. When companies are not following a strict policy, and sometimes even when they are, workers can be treated very badly. Extremely low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions and harassment are some of these issues. Additionally, environment protection activists have brought up ethical issues related to the fashion industry time and time again. The main complaint is about the production of cotton, and how a large amount of pesticides are used.
The use of toxic pesticides leads to air, water and soil pollution. These are detrimental to the health of the workers applying them, and people living nearby. All of these issues would have been impossible to unearth had it not been for the power of the media. Technology such as mini cameras and microphones made it possible for journalists and in some cases the ordinary public, to go undercover into one of these stores. The media can also publish stories and pictures to a wide range of people, thus making more people aware.
The concept of ethical fashion is old; however it has gained more popularity recently. This may be due to the fact that fashion is changing and developing even more resulting in unethical shortcuts being made. These shortcuts may not always be in the best interest of the environment, or indeed the employees. Also, as awareness about environment conservation, cruelty to animals and ethical issues in business is rising, fashion brands are also increasingly adopting ethical means. Customers are also becoming more aware, and consequently the demand for ethically produced clothing is on the rise.