It is a truth universally acknowledged that most clothes on sale in the high street originate in sweatshops, or at least in places with very unsavoury work conditions. In addition to the human suffering caused by exploitative manufacturing processes, garments have often been transported around the world at cost to the environment, and chemical treatments and dyes pollute rivers all over the world. So which high-street shops should the ethical consumer visit?
5) Marks & Spencer
M&S has moved on from being the place your mum buys her knickers. “Plan A”, launched at the beginning of this year, is a five year, £200 million eco-plan which will see the company working in partnership with WWF to increase its sourcing of sustainable raw materials. M&S has set itself a target of sending no waste to landfill by 2012. David Nussbaum, WWF UK Chief Executive, comments that “Agriculture and the production of food and textiles is where our human ecological footprint is at its greatest and so we are delighted to have strengthened our relationship with Marks and Spencer to help us drive better practices in this sector.”
However, an investigation this July revealed that Indian manufacturer Gokaldas Export, who M&S trade with, was exploiting its workers, often paying as little as £1.13 for a nine-hour day. Clearly, M&S still have room to improve their practices.
Equa is committed to fashion that is fairtrade and organic: “all of our products have been produced under conditions and from materials that meet recognised ethical standards, and facilitate improvements in quality of life throughout the supply chain.” Equa currently has just the one store in Islington, London, but more will be coming soon, and you can also buy online.
3) American Apparel
As well as being sweatshop free, with all garments produced on-site in California, American Apparel contracted with Oklahoma based recycling company, Environmental Textiles to recycle all of American Apparel’s cutting and fiber scraps back in 2002. “At American Apparel we are trying our best to promote our workers rights. Now we are also making a genuine effort to manufacturer our product on a more enviromentally friendly basis. But we are only at the beginning stages,” commented founder Dov Charney. The company was chosen as one of Media Magazine’s Top 10 Socially Responsible Companies in 2006. American Apparel has outlets in the UK in London, Brighton and Glasgow, and also sells online. Obviously, transporting garments across the pond means that the eco-credentials suffer somewhat for the UK consumer, but the ethical guarantee is probably worth it.
2) People Tree
People Tree, the ethical fashion pioneers, began in Japan and launched in the UK in 2001. Accredited by the International Fair Trade Association, the Fairtrade Foundation and the Soil Association, the online company now have concessions in more than 30 UK stores, including the flagship Topshop store in Oxford Circus, London. George Monbiot, journalist and activist, comments “In the fashion world there are very few who challenge the system. People Tree is one of them.”
1) Any charity or second-hand shop
As we reported here, a huge proportion of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants can be attributed to manufacture; our culture encourages consumerism, with clothing bought to be worn for just a few months. To shrink your carbon footprint, you would ideally buy less and use things for longer.
Buying clothes second-hand enables us to rely on the manufacturing process less, but also to wear new things and explore new styles. They’re cheap and they’re all over the place, so get shopping.
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