23 February 2016
The true cost of fashion is much greater than what you spend at the till.
In August 2013, Baptist World Aid surveyed 128 brands asking whether they had full traceability of their supply chain and shockingly only 39% of companies knew all, or almost all, of the manufacturers involved. This highlights a big issue, since if companies don't know or don't care who are producing their clothes, it's much harder to protect workers rights or know if they're being abused.
Earlier in 2013, a factory collapse in Bangladesh, known as the Rana Plaza disaster, killed 1129 people and injured approximately 2500 more. Primark, Matalan, Benetton and Inditex (the owner of Zara) were some of the companies having clothes manufactured in the building. The disaster acted as the catalyst to increase awareness of textile and clothing production around the world and sparked the survey released later that year. Since then, Baptist World Aid released an update in 2015 showing things have improved, however much more work still needs to be done.
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have terrible track records with working conditions. More than a million children and adults across both countries are coerced into cotton picking during the season each year. Failure to achieve the quota of cotton production results in punishment and public humiliation and can also mean loss of land for the people managing the cotton fields.
Source: Fahad Faisal
Countries often define a legal minimum wage, however this may not be sufficient to live on without the addition of excessive and dangerous levels of overtime. A minimum wage should allow workers to have food, water, shelter, clothing, energy, transport, etc, as well as some funds left over for savings.
In Bangladesh, the Rana Plaza disaster caused a shift in the right direction for many factories. The minimum legal wage was increased by 75% at the end of 2013, however the country still has the lowest minimum wage in the world. It would require only 30c extra per t-shirt to increase the minimum wage to a proper living wage. It’s not especially a large amount when you consider how much money is made through the large fashion companies. For example, Amancio Ortega, the owner of Zara, is the 4th richest man in the world with a net worth of $69.3 billion.
FAIR WEAR FOUNDATION
Source: Kimberly Yardman
One of the organisations working to improve conditions is the Fair Wear Foundation. FWF oversee countries in Asia, Europe and Africa to make sure factories are providing good working conditions through their Code of Labour Practices. This ensures factories provide a living wage sufficient to meet the needs of workers and their families, as well as providing some discretionary income. The Code limits overtime to 48 hours a week and ensures a safe and healthy working environment. It also ensures no forced labour, no child labour, and allows workers to join trade unions, all things taken for granted in other parts the world.
The next time you’re buying clothes, consider if the company has an ethical and sustainable approach to their garment supply to be sure of the true cost of what you're about to wear.
To see the Baptist World Aid 2015 Fashion Report, click here.