Saturday, 27 April 2013

Which is worth more: saving a couple of pounds, or someone's life?

Obvious isn't it! 
And yet, millions of us could be ruining someone's life every time we decide to save a few pounds on a latest item of clothing.

This factory in Bangladesh produced clothes that were sent to Primark. They may be cheaper, but remember that this could be the result of buying them:

You will hear it the news report above that workers noticed cracks in the building fabric, but were ordered to keep on working. This is true exploitation, risking people's lives for profit. And yet, by buying from companies that use such labour we are condoning such exploitation.

So, what can we do about it?

Consider what you are buying!
Is it labelled fair trade? Do you know what the company does to make sure its workers are not exploited?

This is what Primark had to say about the factory collapse:
The company is shocked and deeply saddened by this appalling incident at Savar, near Dhaka, and expresses its condolences to all of those involved.
Primark confirms that one of its suppliers occupied the second floor of the eight storey building, which housed several suppliers to the garment industry making clothing for a number of brands.
Primark has been engaged for several years with NGOs and other retailers to review the Bangladeshi industry’s approach to factory standards. Primark will push for this review to also include building integrity.
Meanwhile Primark’s ethical trade team is at this moment working to collect information, assess which communities the workers come from, and to provide support where possible.

I don't know about you, but my first question is 'if they knew that Bangladesh's approach to factory standards was not right, then why didn't they either move elsewhere, or set up their own factories that they could police better?' We should encourage them with their push to include building integrity, but also ask how they expect factories to turn a profit whilst treating their workers fairly when Primark sells their products for so little.

Buy fairtrade!
I recently made the decision to no longer buy clothes that we not labelled fairtrade where possible. That's hard, you might say. Well, when it comes to t-shirts its not as hard as you might think!

Yesterday I was browsing my local Sainsbury's store and was pleasantly surprised that they were selling tops made out of fairtrade cotton. I ended up buying two basic stripy tops: a 100% fairtrade cotton one for £5, and a 50% fairtrade cotton with other materials for £8.

For those of you who are more fashion conscious (and who have a little more money) its also possible to buy some lovely fairtrade tops from ethical shops. For instance, I saw a lovely linen top in Just Trading of Wallingford for only £20 the other week. And Ethical Superstore is currently selling fairtrade tops starting at only £16 (they also sell 88 fairtrade fashion items from gloves and necklaces to trousers).

Campaign for better working standards!
I am intending to write to clothing companies that I would like to buy from, asking them how they ensure that their workers are not exploited, and asking them to consider stocking (or stocking more) fairtrade products. I will keep you updated on what I find out. If you are doing the same, or something similar, then do feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Where do you buy your clothing?
Have you considered fairtrade options?