14/08/2014 12:45 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Primark 'Cry For Help' Label Scandal: Why Isn't Ethical Fashion Important To Shoppers?

What will it take for UK consumers to prioritise ethical fashion? The collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh in 2013 wasn't enough, but will the 'cry for help' stitched into a £10 Primark dress do the trick?

If this recent research is anything to go by, even the shocking dress and top labels discovered by two Primark customers in South Wales won't alter the way the majority of us shop.


Three months after 1,129 people were killed in the Bangladesh factory disaster, fashion forecaster Mintel carried out a survey on a group of almost 2,000 shoppers aged 16 and over.

When asked what was important when making a purchase, the treatment of workers was valued as "low" and environmental friendliness was "ranked even lower as a concern for clothes shoppers."

The numbers for those supporting ethical fashion weren't insignificant - 44 of men placed the workers who make the clothing they buy at the top of their lists - but surely it's high time more than half of UK shoppers put wages, workers rights and fair trade first.

Awareness of the dangerous and immoral implications of the fast fashion industry must be improved, but how can it be when cost is such a vital factor for both the retailer and the consumer?

It's not surprising to see that durability of clothing, product quality, the returns policy, low prices, in-store customer service and in-store environment were all ranked above the ethical treatment of workers. The demand for affordable, disposable fashion has never been higher and of course, quality and price are always going to influence our shopping decisions.

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Yet the high street is continuing to feed our growing taste for cheap clothes and something has got to change in this two-way relationship between the shop and its clientele.

In order for consumers to truly register the significance of ethical fashion, Mintel's findings suggest retailers should try "flagging up their ethical credentials where this will chime with their core shopper."

And some stores have. H&M has launched a Conscious Collection with seven commitments to "the people, the planet and [our] wallets," while research group Ethisphere placed H&M, M&S and Gap on its 'Most Ethical Companies for 2014' list. The government is also driving an Ethical Trading Initiative between companies and their suppliers.

However, to truly make a difference to the fashion choices we make and the people these impact, there must be a shared responsibility between the government and retailers to prevent long-term damage to the industry.

The most culpable party of all? It's us, the consumers. Fast fashion has become excessive, needless and unsustainable - and the power is in our hands to reverse this.

Find out more about the challenges retailers are facing at the Ethical Fashion Forum.