FAQ: Where can we find an 'ethical' supplier?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Ending the extreme exploitation that pervades the garment industry is not as simple as picking the ‘right’ brand to buy.

‘Fairtrade’ and ‘organic’ are currently the only labels that provide guarantees, but they do not tell us about working conditions throughout the supply chain.

There is a growing number of existing companies offering ‘ethical’ brands, and a proliferation of ‘alternative’ brands claiming to produce ‘ethically’. Some might use a different trading model — for example, sourcing from cooperatives — others might focus on issues such as environmental impact. While many are genuinely trying to challenge exploitative practices in the garment industry, others put more effort into image than impact. For an idea of some of the questions to bear in mind when evaluating a company’s performance have a look at Labour Behind the Label’s overview of some alternative suppliers

If your student union sources merchandise through NUS Services Limited then you can easily switch from Fruit of the Loom to Epona. Fruit of the Loom has been condemned by the International Textile Garments and Leatherworkers Federation as having “a history of virulent anti-union activity”, overworking employees and paying “poverty wages”. Epona uses Fairtrade cotton and carries out regular social audits in their factories to ensure that they comply with International Labour Organisation Standards.

Switching to alternative brands is one way to challenge the exploitative practices of large companies, sending a message that consumers care how their clothes are produced. However, ethical consumerism can only take us so far. Small companies normally have smaller buying power and only limited influence over wider conditions. The Redress Fashion campaign aims to create more systemic change — which is why our our main focus is on the changes that mainstream companies need to make if the garment industry is to be fundamentally transformed.
Join in the debate around this issue

  • Martin Hearson of Labour behind the Label addresses the question “Who is the ethical consumer” on the Let’s Clean up Fashion blog - “…the ‘ethical consumer’ needs to be everybody, and needs to want nothing less than across-the-board respect for workers’ rights.”

  • Use the network owned and run web forum to discuss issues surrounding our campaigns and to share ideas with other P&Pers.

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