Fashion is one of the biggest industries in the world, with an annual turnover of more than 3 trillion dollars. Yet the workers at the bottom of the supply chain see very little of the profits. In many countries, farmers growing cotton and garment production line workers are poorly paid and subjected to harsh working conditions, to enable us to have the latest fashion trend at the click of a button.
Cotton farmers in some of the poorest countries in the world face numerous barriers to earning a decent living, rising costs of production, climate change and a market that is distorted by subsidies given to cotton farmers in wealthier countries including the USA and China. The subsidies help to lower the market price of cotton, enabling larger producers to export their cotton for less than it costs to produce in West Africa or India (Fairtrade.org.uk 2019).
How can my choices make a difference?
The easiest way to help producers of cotton is to look for companies who use Fairtrade cotton in their clothing lines. The Fairtrade Foundation lists a whole host of them on their website, but a few of the biggest labels include People Tree and White Stuff for men’s and women’s fashion; Little Green Radicals for childrenswear; and Constant Climbing for Sportswear. Other Fairtrade cotton products are also available, such as bags, towels and bed linen.
Choosing Fairtrade fashion not only helps the cotton farmers but also tends to help those further along the chain, making the clothing that ends up on our high streets. A company who has chosen to invest in Fairtrade cotton suppliers is also likely to care about ethics throughout their supply chain, often setting up their own factories to ensure that workers’ rights are being met and lives are being improved.
For example, People Tree have committed to a fully traceable and transparent supply chain, monitored by the Fairtrade Foundation and the World Fairtrade Organisation (WFTO). They work closely with their suppliers to ensure that workers are treated well by their employers, in factories that are fit-for-purpose and provide training to enable workers to enhance their skills and therefore boost their incomes.
Many major clothing retails now offer more ethical lines of clothing within their brands. Whether this may be using organic cotton, or committing to the principals of Fairtrade, this is a step in a more sustainable future for fashion. The next time you are shopping, take a little more time to find out if your favourite brands are doing anything to improve the lives of people who make their clothes. Don’t like what you see? Join the #FashionRevolution and call them out.
-Thank you to Gill Moczarski who is a Sustainable Development Assistant at NTU, for writing this blog post!
Want to write a blog post that’s featured on this site? Email us your ideas today at GreenAcademy@ntu.ac.uk!