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Introduction – Ethical Fashion

Clothes, like any other consumable goods, have a history. In the case of the fashion industry, that history usually involves people in poorer, less developed countries being sourced for cheap labour. This doesn’t necessarily mean exploitation; many fashion retailers are conscientious about human rights issues and have policies which aim to maintain fair standards.  However, this is not always a guarantee – supply chains are complex and sadly, companies are frequently found to be sourcing from factories where workers are not treated fairly and/or their health and safety is put at risk.

Keyword-ResearchLook out for our new sector-specific Ethical Accreditation certification marks which now cover over 15 different consumer product sectors. These are additional to our original Ethical Company mark that features on the packaging of over 100 million consumer products every year.

No sweat

The issue of sweatshops has attracted a good deal of attention in the West, as companies within the fashion industry have been charged with abusing basic human rights abroad in order to keep prices competitive at home.  In the worst reported cases, workers have to work seven days a week with no holidays, do not receive decent wages, and are prevented from forming unions. There is now considerable pressure on companies to have a code of conduct, and to make a concerted effort to meet this code. It is essential that companies allow their workers to form unions and to have some kind of external or internal monitoring process.  A code of conduct, however, does not immediately infer ethical credibility, because they are not always rigorously enforced.

While Gap has a decent code of conduct, a paper published by the Indian Committee of the Netherlands in 2016, gives evidence of appalling living conditions and restricted freedom of movement of young migrant garment workers in the Indian city of Bangalore. It found that an increasing number of young migrant women workers were staying in factory-owned hostels with poor living conditions while their movement is severely restricted and the wages of the workers did not add up to a decent living wage.  Some companies, including Gap, have signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative. This is a step in the right direction, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee truly ethical practices.

The Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 factory workers in 2013, bought the rights and safety for workers into the spotlight.  The building’s owners ignored warnings to avoid using the building after cracks had appeared the day before and garment workers were ordered to return the following day, but the building collapsed during the morning rush-hour.  It is considered the deadliest garment-factory accident in history.

In reaction to the disaster, the The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was set up.  The Accord is an independent, legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions designed to work towards a improving health and safety within the Bangladeshi Garment Industry.  To date, The Accord has been signed by over 200 clothing brands, retailers and importers from over 20 countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia; two global trade unions; and eight Bangladesh trade unions and four NGO witnesses.  A full list of signatories can be found on The Accord website.

Fair trade

One solution to avoid purchasing products which are produced in sweatshops, is to purchase fairly traded clothing. This ensures that producers and workers in developing countries are paid a fair price for their work under decent working conditions with the aim of reducing poverty and promoting sustainability. For a list of companies that companies that specialise in fair trade and ethical products see our Alternative Clothing Directory.

Another way of supporting fair trade is to look for clothes made with cotton certified with the Fairtrade Mark, which are now easily available through online retailers. The Fairtrade certification ensures that the farmers are paid a guaranteed minimum price for their cotton crop and receive a Fairtrade premium on top. It also ensures that the cotton has been produced in a fully certified and traceable supply chain.  People Tree is recognised as a pioneer in Fair Trade and environmentally sustainable fashion and not surprisingly is the highest ranking company for ethics in our latest research (below).  For an up-to-date list of retailers selling certified clothing, see the Fair Trade Foundation’s website.  The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) mark also demonstrates 100% commitment to Fair Trade in the business activities of their members.

Cotton

It is estimated that nearly one third of a pound of chemical fertilisers and pesticides is needed to produce enough cotton for a single T-shirt, and these chemicals are some of the most toxic around. They cause air and water pollution, pollute the land – killing animals and plants – and cause illness amongst farmers and workers. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 20,000 deaths occur in developing countries each year from poisoning by agricultural pesticides used on crops, of which many, due to their relative toxicity, can be attributed to cotton. As well as being far more beneficial for the environment, organic cotton is often bought directly from the farmer or a local cooperative. This means that the farmer gets a fairer deal and more income from the crop.  Buy organic if you can: Over 80% of People Tree’s collection is made with 100% certified organic cotton.

Our research now includes criteria for the Better Cotton Initiative.  The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, the environment it grows in and for the sector’s future, by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.  The four main aims of the BCI are to: reduce the environmental impact of cotton production; improve the livelihoods and economic development in cotton producing areas; improve commitment to and flow of Better Cotton throughout supply chain and to ensure the credibility and sustainability of the Better Cotton Initiative.  The BCI now has more than 60 Retailer and Brand members which include Fat Face, ASOS, H&M, New Look, Next, Zara, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Gap.  A full list can be found on the BCI website.

NB: Although People Tree is not member of BCI, the company shows a strong commitment to cotton sustainability through membership of Fair Trade, social justice and environmental networks. Over 80% of People Tree’s collection is made with organic cotton and almost all of their cotton is Fairtrade certified organic.

Ethical Comparison – Fashion Rankings Detailed Table



Keyword-Research
Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following fashion retailer brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): People Tree, Whistles, Fat Face, Seasalt, ASOS, Debenhams, H&M, New Look, Patagonia, Phase Eight, River Island, White Stuff, Next, Zara, French Connection, Marks & Spencer, Joules, Mango, Monsoon & Accessorize, Tu at Sainsbury’s, Burton, Coast, Crew Clothing, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Oasis, Topman, Topshop, Wallis, Warehouse, F&F at Tesco, Primark, Gap, Matalan, George at Asda.

Review – Fat Face

Originally launched in 1988, the Fat Face story is a famous one: it began with "two friends desperately trying to
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Review – Fat Face

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LAST UPDATED: 2017Ethical Trading Initiative