The 2016“Behind the Barcode” report states that only 14 out of 87 of the largest fashion brands list who makes their garments. Less than half share the countries their clothes were made in. And, only 17 have any clue where the notions(such as zippers and threads) they use come from.
A key component of sustainability is the manner in which a company deals with its workers. Fast fashion is known for exploiting cheap labour in poor working conditions in order to keep prices low.
The more that consumers are becoming aware, the more they are attracted to responsible brand owners who influence their suppliers to treat workers well. Consumers are beginning to look for transparency.
Consumers are increasingly asking: Are workers paid adequately? Are their working conditions efficient and safe? Are they given adequate time away from work to rest and be alert?
Unfortunately, the textile industry is notorious for not caring.
Most brands are not interested in knowing who made their clothes, as long as they receive their garments on time and at competitive prices. This could be deliberate because if brands open their eyes to all the tiers of the supply chain, they might have to act responsibly to do something about the low wages and poor work conditions. Resolving those issues means reducing the margins and increasing cost of the products to the end consumer. Traditionally brands think this is bad-business practice.
Out of the over 40 million garment workers worldwide, most are in third world countries. 85% of those are women, are some of the lowest paid workers in the world, and work under some of the worst conditions.
Some of the most responsible, informed brands (according to Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index) are H&M, Inditex, and Levi Strauss. Nike and Patagonia also collect supply chain information. Nike uses a Materials Sustainability Index that lists over 77,000 materials, where they come from, and the supplier’s record on sustainability. Patagonia is Fair Trade certified. Their website provides articles on how their expectations affect workers, including one on the sustainability effect of Fair Trade certification itself.
On the other hand, there are many major brands who should be asking questions and publishing answers, but aren’t. World renowned brands Chanel, Hermes, Claire’s Accessories, Prada and Michael Kors are a few of them.
This is where consumers can have a positive effect on the fashion industry by demanding information from producers and purchasing according to which brands treat their supply chains ethically. All company profits come from purchases made by consumers and all wages are paid from this revenue so consumer choices do affect how companies treat their employees.
Consumers have the power to change these malpractices because a brands sole objective is to sell. And if the consumer refuses to buy products that are unethical and exploit workers, brands are forced to be more responsible for their footprints.
Consumers can do a lot to advocate this belief, for example: if a brand does not provide information on their website about suppliers, consumers can do the research themselves. If they think a seller is deliberately hiding that knowledge, the consumer can write about it in a review that discourages other customers from buying that brand, thereby counteracting the brand’s advertising efforts and laying their marketing expenses to waste. They can also write a letter to the brand owner requesting transparency.
In a very big way, consumers demanding transparency is an urgent demand for brands to choose responsible suppliers that their customers can be proud of.