Fighting Sweatshops Through Ethical Consuming

Amira Aleem builds upon her previous article with an article discussing sweatshops. The article continues to address the concept of buying ethically, something that can be done on nearly every purchase.

Remember when wearing real fur was cool? No? Exactly. The large-scale awareness and campaigns of organisations like PETA against fur farming made wearing fur distasteful and very unstylish in the early ‘90s. It wasn’t long before celebrities took a stand against it, and the media began condoning it. As a result, sales of fur have dropped by dramatic rates as more and more stores recognized that it did not appeal to its customers. Imagine if we could do that for sweatshops and ensure that the people making our clothes aren’t working in conditions that treat them like animals.

Recently, movements like the War on Want and the Clean Clothes Campaign have shed light on the issue of sweatshop workers and raised the profile of ethical fashion. Labour Behind the Label has produced a comprehensive study that has specifically asked companies on their policies for providing better care for their workers. The issue is that workers in developing countries that are employed to make clothes, are often not paid adequately (that is, a fair living wage by which they should be able to afford food, rent, transport and savings) and they work in conditions that are unsafe and or illegal. Apart from being morally unsettling, mistreating workers is bad for business, and by buying from brands that are making significant change, we can create a demand for ethics.

Marissaortan / Creative Commons License

Marissaortan / Creative Commons License

Just over a year ago, the high-profile case of a huge garment factory in Bangaldesh in 2013, made headlines when over 1,000 workers, died in the fatal collapse that produced clothes for several of the best-known high-street fashion brands. Rana Plaza, was the result of negligence by authorities to recognize and repair a crack in the building which garment workers had pointed out the day before. Over two years later, several of the injured continue to live difficult lives, having lost their limbs, income and family members to the disaster.

This isn’t the first time there has been news about appalling conditions for workers in the developing world. In, 2012, a customer at Saks Fifth Avenue, found a note inside her shopping bag asking for help from a Chinese prisoner, who had produced the bag under slave-like conditions.  Almost a year later, British high street retailer Primark was put under the spotlight when a note was found inside a pair of jeans claiming to be from a prison inmate working under horrific conditions. Unfortunately, the disconnect between shops, supply-chains and final customers means that it can be hard to know which brands are doing the most to protect human rights. With the increase in fast fashion that makes clothes easily available at throwaway prices our role as consumers becomes even more important to ensure that the clothes we wear isn’t being paid for with someone’s life.

Darren Johnson / iDJ Photography / Creative Commons License

Darren Johnson / iDJ Photography / Creative Commons License


Perhaps one of the best options that currently exists is buying from smaller super ultra ethical fashion brands like People Tree (bonus they have pieces designed by Emma Watson) and Living Crafts which make guilt-free fashion available online and utilize organic cotton. These are among the highest ranked retailers on Ethical Consumer. Alternatively, other sources suggest looking at vintage and second-hand retailers that stock clothes that aren’t made in factories that enforce illegal labour conditions. In a more micro way, opt to tweet to big brands asking that they make their policies for workers more transparent, or pay out compensation as in the case of the Bangladesh disaster.

However, as Bryony Moore argues, the biggest change will only come from larger corporations taking responsibility and investing in cleaning their supply chains. Some of the biggest retailers have made significant efforts to protect their workers’ rights and ensure better conditions. For example, Zara and H and M, rank highly on a range of various indicators including environmental sustainability and of course, workers rights. Marks and Spencer, has also received recognition for taking action against the forced labour on Uzbek cotton farms. By supporting these brands we can be part of the global push for more ethics in high-street fashion.

If consumers like you and me push the market to demand better working conditions for its producers; chances are corporations are going to adapt to meet that need. Zara and H and M top the list of ethical mainstream fashion brands that are working hard to protect workers rights (woot!). For more places of guilt-free shopping and the politics of the garment industry – follow my blog at



The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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