10% cotton, 90% devastation

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According to latest estimates, 380 lives were claimed after a building containing six garment factories collapsed in Bangladesh on 24th April. At the time of writing, 900 people are still missing.

Although I was concerned by the news, sitting safely in Durham, worlds away from the heat and gruelling conditions of a factory in Dhaka, I did not immediately feel any responsibility for the terrible scenes of rubble and wreckage.

It was only a few days later, when nationwide brands were linked to the building, that I began to realise my culpability for the event; part of the reason that companies risk such conditions must be to bring consumers – like me – the latest fashion as cheaply as possible.

Clothes Hanging To Dry I will openly confess my addiction when it comes to clothes shopping; high-street, outlet, ebay, charity shops… my overflowing wardrobe is evidence of my success as a garment-hoarder.

Despite my self-proclaimed semi-professional status as a retail guru, the thought at the forefront of my mind has always been to acquire good quality, high-fashion garments for the best price possible. Often, one has to compromise, and for the sake of the student loan, you are forced to choose cheaper, potentially lower-quality goods.

Never once had it occurred to me to consider the ethical manufacture of the clothes I choose to buy, or to actively avoid those brands continuing to maintain poor standards. Of course, if a retailer happened to make me aware of its ethical policies, it was a bonus. However, the existence of sweatshops lurking at the back of my mind was not enough to switch my concern from my pocket to the quality of life of the person who sowed that pocket for me.

So I went to my wardrobe. I pulled out a few of my favourite clothes, studied the labels for the manufacturing information, and then looked online to see if I could find out more.

Item: Floral Dress

Label: Topshop

Made in: Romania

Topshop use a programme called ARC (Assessment Remediation, Capacity building), which seeks to empower workers, managers and factory owners to create a fair working environment.

Item: Patterned top

Label: Jack Wills

Made in: Portugal

Jack Wills state that the company is a ‘foundation stage member’ of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which focuses on improving the working lives of employees amongst their supplier base and business partners.

Item: Black dress

Label: Ted Baker

Made in: China

Ted Baker pledge their allegiance online to MADE-BY, a not for profit association with the tag line ‘Fashion with respect for people and planet’. They study the conditions for the people who work within the factories and advise targets to improve the overall sustainability of the clothing.

Item: Denim Shorts

Label: Levi Strauss & Co

Made in: Sri Lanka

Levi’s claim on their website to be the first multinational apparel company to establish a comprehensive workplace code of conduct for their manufacturing suppliers. They also state that they employ factory assessors to conduct regular assessments of every factory manufacturing their products.

Item: Black Jeans

Label: Mango

Made in: Cambodia

Unfortunately, I was unable to find any ethical statement from Mango as easily as from the other companies. It may exist within the company, but in the end I gave up the search. It has been reported that Mango was one of the companies using the building that collapsed in Bangladesh.

As well as labels that I have researched here, my wardrobe also contains items from those retailers your might imagine to be prime suspects for poor working conditions, selling throwaway fashion at bargain prices. These garments did not state where they were made on the labels.

I think it is significant that I didn’t choose any of these cheaply bought items amongst my favourite clothes, which leads me to wonder what the point of it all is: why should I support a company which does not values ethical manufacture, even if that top does only cost two pounds? If it were going to fester at the back of my wardrobe then it would have been better to have left it in the shop and put my two pounds towards something I really value.

Shock and disgust rippled through the country when people discovered that they could have been eating horse at their last barbeque. Somehow, I doubt that people will feel similarly effected by the loss of lives connected with their clothes, unless beneath the brand and country of manufacture, the label also states how many deaths contributed to its production.

People died so that I could get a thirty-second thrill from a purchase that ultimately meant nothing to me.

It gives a chilling new perspective to having skeletons in my closet.

Photograph by Christian Haugen 

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