Who made my clothes? A look at the current fashion climate for Fashion Revolution Week 2020

April 20, 2020

Amidst a global pandemic, fashion may seem frivolous, yet the people who make our clothes are also in crisis. Many brands are choosing not to honour payments for work and are putting people’s livelihoods in jeopardy.

Let’s get campaigning. 

What’s the situation?

The fashion industry is being asked to intervene and protect the wages of the 40 million garment workers in their supply chains around the world who face destitution as factories close and orders dry up in the wake of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Many factories in garment-producing countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam are already closing due to a shortage of raw materials from China and declining orders from western clothing brands.

Some brands are taking on the responsibility of supporting their suppliers. H&M, Nike and others have committed to paying for orders that are completed or in production. Other brands such as Tesco and Primark have made no commitment as yet.

What’s the response?

Traidcraft Exchange, UK-based fair trade watchdog, have asked fashion brands and retailers to keep their promises on payment plans.

“The coronavirus pandemic is exposing the bullying practices with which fashion retailers and brands treat their suppliers, with knock-on consequences for workers,” Traidcraft Exchange’s Senior Private Sector Policy Advisor Fiona Gooch said.

Labour Behind the Label are asking brands on social media to #PayUp on their existing orders and ensure that the financial burden of Covid 19 does not fall on garment workers.

Keep up to date with the global situation with this live blog from Clean Clothes Campaign.

Fashion Revolution Week

Fashion Revolution Week is 20 – 26 April and was created to mark the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,138 people and injured many more in 2013.

Rana Plaza was a factory complex in Savar, Bangladesh, making clothes for some of the biggest global fashion brands. Of the 5,000 employees at the factory, most were young women.

The campaign calls for systemic change in the fashion industry. The fashion and textiles sector is one of the most polluting and wasteful industries contributing to the climate emergency we live in. The industry continues to lack transparency, with widespread exploitation of people working in the supply chain.

Brands and retailers are still not taking enough responsibility for the pay and working conditions in their factories, the environmental impacts of the materials they use or how the products they make affect the health of people, animals and our living planet.

What are the conditions of the global fashion industry?

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that:

  • 300 million people work in the clothing industry, with around 25 to 60 million people directly employed.
  • Most of these workers in low-skill and low paid work are young women.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 female garment workers having experienced sexual harassment in the past 12 months.

Fashion and Fairtrade

Fairtrade has been working with cotton farmers since 2010 with most of the UK’s cotton coming from poor and marginalised farmers who face daily challenges.

Production costs, fluctuating market prices, decreasing yields and climate change along with food price inflation and food insecurity are all threats. Fairtrade supports the most vulnerable cotton farmers, enabling them to sell their goods at a decent price so they can provide for themselves and their families.

But this was not enough. The textile supply chain is so long with many overlapping issues that more than certifying cotton farmers was needed. So Fairtrade developed the Textile Standard.

The Textile Standard works with manufacturers to improve wages, educating workers on their rights and working conditions, and engaging clothing brands to commit to fairer terms of trade.

Fairtrade is trying to make living incomes a reality for people, this means essential household needs – food, water, housing, education, health care, transport, and clothing.

The way you shop not only impacts you and your direct community, but also your global community, thousands of kilometres away, working hard to continue providing the goods that we all enjoy.

How brands are responding

British brand White Stuff have partnered with Fairtrade to produce a Fairtrade Collection using Fairtrade Sourced Cotton. In 2019 they became the only British lifestyle brand to sign a three year commitment to increase the amount of Fairtrade Sourced cotton sourced every year.

The World Fair Trade Organisation have created a Fair Trade Fashion Catalogue with businesses who’re producing sustainable, ethical and beautiful fashion.

What can I do?

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