Friday, 21 September 2007

Unfairly-Slaved Fashions - Enough To Make You Green?

For some while now I've been perturbed by the strange dichotomy that while we Brits will happily pay through the nose for a beverage in order to ensure it is fairly-traded and the cafĂ© staff paid a living wage, ten minutes later will see a sizeable number of us browsing the likes of Primark/New Look/Bon Marche gleefully marvelling at the wonders of cheerful bargain print dresses for £6 - doubtless made by blind one-armed Guatamalan lesbian five-year olds on 3 quetzals a day.

I mean, does no one make the correlation? Does no one idly wonder how these amazing 'bargains' could possibly be possible without some kind of major exploitation going on at the other end of the supply chain, every bit as unconscienable as squeezing third world farmers of their due?

Let's break down the likely maths of a £6 dress.
First-off the raw material, then; -
Someone has to spin it into yarn, someone has to weave it, someone has to print/dye it, someone has to cut it, someone has to sew it, someone has to pack it, someone has to transport it (not usually less than halfway across the world), someone has to warehouse it, someone has to pay import duty on it, someone might then wholesale it, then the retailer buys it, then further 'distribution' transport to the shops before it can finally go on sale.
In short at least 13 processes required for a £6 garment, and that's before accounting for any retail PROFIT on the dress. As virtually no items are sold for less than 100% mark up of the production costs at least, thus a £6 dress has to pass through 13 pairs of hands expending no more £3 of its final cost. Of that £3 approximately 45p per process then, to be broken down between master and slave of each process (hmm, I wonder who gets what percentage there)

Are you as horrified as I am yet? As for the £4 shirt or the £5 under-8's school uniform, let's not even go there!

As if all this weren't bad enough the single-season throwaway fashion industry makes a complete mockery of any pretensions to earth-saving greenness we may kid ourselves about.

As someone who's always made a point of buying reasonable quality clothes to last a good five years (preferring to possess a few good clothes rather than a wardrobe full of rubbish) and who prided herself on buying them from what she thought were reputable outlets such as Next, Gap, Long Tall Sally etc, I find in the last fortnight that I have no room for the smugness I thought was mine as I read to my disgust that the likes of Next and Gap (and even M&S) are also now exploiting the Third World just as badly - only with an obviously far larger mark-up than the chains who brag blatantly (but not openly) of their exploitation via their prices.

So where does the clothes shopper who wishes to be ethical (but isn't uber-wealthy by any stretch of the imagination) go from here? And could this help...? Clean Up Fashion

Dispiriting though, that having been led to believe this whole sweatshop business had been stamped down in the 90's, it bounces back in the naughties stronger than ever.

And while we're on the subject of exploitation, should we be asking if punters insist on fairly slave-traded prostitutes in our red light districts?

On a lighter note, here's my favourite story about the consumer who tried to take advantage of Nike's offer several years ago to have his new Nike trainers embroidered with a slogan free of charge! He chose the word 'Sweatshop' and you may recall, became internet-famous for a while when his fascinating e-mail exchange with Nike went global.

Taking the Nike


Steve said...

Gulp. I must admit I shop quite regularly at Gap. And felt quite smug about it. Not so now. I guess there's no such thing as a free meal or even a cut price one... if you're not paying full whack for it then it means that some other poor(er) bugger is. Not good.

Crafty Green Poet said...

All my clothes are second hand except for underwear, which I try to buy from the Natural Catalogue or anywhere similar that can give me organic cotton underwear. However their styles aren't so nice and they lose shape easily. Shoes are a real conumdrum for me, though a good pair can last years with being reheeled a couple of times.

The Sagittarian said...

Hi Laura,
Great discussion here and in answer to your query on my blog - I work for a Union covering workers in the Meat Processing industry. I agree with Steve, there is always some other poor(er) bugger paying for something.It's amazing how much individuals can do tho' when they all work together to try and rectify something, even tiny victories are better than nothing.