Who made my clothes? Are brands in Britain playing by the rules?

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Six years on from the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh Traidcraft Exchange is teaming up with Fashion Revolution in a new initiative that aims to speed up change in the fashion industry. Tom Sharman explains why we’re now asking: ‘Who made my clothes? Are brands in Britain playing by the rules?’ 

Before we launched ‘Who picked my tea?’ about a year ago, Fashion Revolution had been encouraging its supporters to ask ‘Who made my clothes?’ for a while. The similarity in names isn’t a coincidence – I liked Fashion Revolution’s language and its staff were nice enough to give their blessing. 

 With ‘Who picked my tea?’ drawing to a successful conclusion we’ve been thinking about which injustices in trade to tackle next and the obvious place to start is the fashion industry. 

Fashion Revolution Week is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh which killed more than 1,000 people, most of whom were young women making clothes for the international market. Amid the devastation, one positive thing that emerged was a new wave of activists who both loved fashion and hated the injustices perpetuated by the fashion industry. That is the essence of Fashion Revolution.  

‘Who made my clothes?’ or, more accurately, #whomademyclothes has connected hundreds of thousands of consumers directly with the brands that sell the clothes they wear. A lot of this has happened through the medium of Instagram because that platform allows its users to take a photo of their clothing label, tag the brand in question and ask ‘Who made my clothes?’. Simple, but effective because the brands do feel compelled to respond.  

I will not pretend that I’m particularly Instagram-savvy myself (I’m more Generation Facebook). And I suspect that neither are many of Traidcraft Exchange’s core supporters. Plus, Fashion Revolution have got that demographic pretty much covered. 

Where we can add value here is by looking at some of the related issues and mobilising our campaigning muscle to tackle them. 

Modern slavery – people being owned or controlled by an ‘employer’ or forced to work – is alive and well in the fashion industry. At least that’s what leading lights in the fashion industry themselves argued in evidence to a Select Committee of MPs: the luxury goods brand Burberry said

“We take the view that the labour and environmental standards in certain countries are not sufficient for us to have confidence that our standards can be adhered to. Therefore, we have a strong policy around countries from which we will not source our finished products. These countries include; Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia and Myanmar.” 

So what is the rest of the fashion industry doing about this? Well it’s not that easy to find out. The UK Modern Slavery Act does require major companies to set out what they are doing to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains. But the British Government does not keep a central record of what each of them are doing – a major gap in the system. 

We’re aiming to close that gap by persuading the Government to set up a proper modern slavery database so that we, as consumers, can see which brands are the leaders and which are the laggards. 

 

Tom Sharman is Traidcraft Exchange’s Senior Campaigns & Communications Officer