What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion refers to the process by which brands often use practices to provide clothes at a fraction of the price. These practices would be considered to be unsustainable and a breach of human rights in our country, so why should we turn a blind eye when UK companies don’t uphold our values abroad? Our demand for large quantities of cheap consumer products is one element that keeps countries economically dependent on the west, and workers in a cycle of abuse.
What are the facts?
Whilst companies such as Primark claim that their ethics policies prohibit the use of child or slave labour in their production lines, this is a facade to play into their blissful ignorance to the reality of the situation. There is no question that the fast fashion industry does and has used child and slave labour via legal loopholes. Studies show that there are approximately 211 million children under the age of 15 working around the world – 60% of these in Asia, many involved in fast fashion. H&M worked with clothing factories in Myanmar where children as young as 14 toiled for more than 12 hours a day.
UK retailers will often ignore their own guidelines through use of third-party contractors – as evidenced by the Christian Initiative Romero (CIR) which interviewed employees of several supplier factories to merchants such as Primark. None of these factories met the retailer’s code of conduct; and some are in breach of local law.
Sri Lanka has a working-hour ceiling of 57 hours and a minimum wage of £67.74 a month in the garment industry. The average working week for those surveyed was 59 hours and some working for as little as £62.59. The average base wage of those interviewed, according to the study, was around £2 above the legal minimum. Official Sri Lankan figures suggest €128.62 a month minimum is required to feed a family.
Along with China, Cambodia and Bangladesh, Turkey is one of the largest producers of clothing sold on the British high street, supplying labels that include Topshop, Burberry, Marks & Spencer and Asos. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Turkey work for low pay far below the minimum wage of 1,300 Turkish lira (£309) per month.
Many companies appeared to have an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to auditing their factories, conducting preannounced visits that could allow factory managers to cover up abuses.
How can we help?
As the customers, you have what they want, money. These companies thrive on our buying habits, changing your habits can be a powerful tool in the fight for a better world. Think consciously about where your garment is coming from, only buy what you need, give good clothes a second home and purchase from companies that use labour responsibly and ethically.
When purchasing new clothes, think about platforms such as Depop and the Facebook Marketplace – by investing in second-hand clothing you avoid funnelling more money into the fast fashion industry. Alternatively, look into local or generally British/English suppliers – just by searching for something like ‘local sock company’ or ‘Kent hat company’, you can easily find products produced and designed in England and under our own ethical standards. This has the added benefit of supporting small businesses over multinational corporations and keeping money local.
Ultimately, however, it is important for us to reassess our consumption habits more broadly. We cannot continue to consume clothing, electronics and other products at our present rate without propagating environmental degradation and the abuse of foreign labour. Living sustainably doesn’t just mean buying from the right places, it means buying less and buying things to last.
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