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Outraged About Child Labour In Fashion? Here's What You Can Do

28/10/2016 17:17
KhongkitWiriyachan via Getty Images

As devastating as this week's BBC Panorama programme on Syrian refugee children working in Turkish garment factories was, its revelations do not surprise anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the garment industry.

The programme, partly based on undercover filming, found that refugees as young as seven or eight had been working up to 12 hours a day in factories supplying established British fashion retailers.

Predictably, the reaction by spokespeople of the mentioned brands was one of outrage as well as promises to do better in future, some of them convincing, some less so.

What frustrates me in particular is that it is a well known fact that garment supply chains of big brands are highly complex, mostly international and involve a lot of subcontracting and poor oversight. For all the sadness and outrage about the findings of this important piece of investigative journalism, none of this is new.

And so, of course big brands must do better and of course, as their customers, we deserve better information. Nobody wants to be complicit in child labour or other unethical labour practices. Ethical fashion campaigners would argue that it is the responsibility of those big brands to lead by example and improve industry standards.

And that is absolutely the case.

But, as consumers, we need not sit back and wait until we can be 100% confident that large fashion brands pay everyone in their supply chain a fair wage and provide otherwise decent working conditions.

Why not, when you next need a new pair of pants, shoes, shirt or even evening dress, consider a smaller brand that can tell you exactly where and under what conditions they produce?

That's not to say that smaller is better by default. You do have to ask tough questions.

But my work building Sheer Apparel has shown me that small fashion brands who choose to operate on strong ethical principles are usually much more able and willing to work in very close cooperation with their manufacturers. That means they can tell you in great detail what the factories are like and who works there. Smaller companies by default can also greatly reduce the risk of any subcontracting.

Knowing what approach brands take to manufacturing ethics already speaks volumes. For our partner brands choosing to manufacture ethically means doing so in countries where labour laws are better and more solidly enforced, or to do so in small to medium sized fairtrade certified factories for example in India.

In the UK, we are exceptionally lucky to increasingly have the option to choose ethical brands. We are beginning to see high quality, genuinely fashionable, affordable alternatives for just about any clothing item you might need. In many cases it just takes a quick online search or a read of a growing number of stylish ethical fashion blogs.

So, after watching the Panorama programme, absolutely be outraged. But next time you go shopping, also consider voting with your wallet.

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