Ethical problems in fashion – what can be done?

ethical fashion

The fashion world is riddled with ethical controversies that cover the process from production to consumption. Although these issues plague the industry, some companies are fighting for improvement. We’re looking at some of the ways in which companies can fix the situation. Furthermore, some brands have worked to use environmentally friendly materials in their products.

Lack of Sustainability

The fashion industry has a history of environmentally destructive practices. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, 85% of the textiles produced by the United States end up in our landfills. To put this in perspective, this means 70 pounds of textiles per person go to waste. To make matters worse, each ton of fabric used for jeans and shirts consumes around 200 tons of water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

According to Vogue, one scientist estimated that it would take 100,000 years for most of the planet’s plastic waste to biodegrade. Vogue noted that the chromium used in tanneries stained portions of the Ganges mountains bright blue.  The once-sprawling ecosystem in these areas has been totally eradicated.

Scarcity of Fire Safety Measures

Fire doors, which can resist high temperatures for long periods of time, are a rarity in many overseas factories. This problem has led to innumerable tragedies. In 2012, for example, a fire broke out at the Tazreen Fashion factory in Bangladesh. With no fire doors, the flame easily spread. The collapse of the factory killed 112 workers in the process.

Furthermore, another fire proved fatal in Bangladesh, which occured just a few months later. The Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed and killed 1,100 workers and became one of the deadliest industrial disasters in history, according to the New York Times.

Unjust Labor Practices

The fashion industry perpetuates a number of unjust labor practices that stem from the demand for fast fashion. At a factory that supplies Walmart in Cambodia, workers must work 10 to 14 hours a day without access to breaks or clean water, according to the New York Times. Cambodian workers that protested for an extra $20 a month were shot and killed.

Many of the world’s most successful companies benefit from harmful labor practices. Factory workers supplying the Gap were forced to work 100 hours a week at low wages, according the Asia Floor Wage Alliance’s report. That same report found similar abuses and sexual harassment at H&M’s supplier factories.

Company Responses

Demand for fast fashion has placed an “enormous pressure” on factories, the New York Times has reported.  This includes the process of “churn[ing] out billions of dollars worth of goods at costs low enough to beat out the competition for business from foreign companies.”

The demand for fast fashion comes from many brands, such as Walmart, Gap and H&M.  They lean on these overseas factories to gain quick clothing offerings.

After the Rana Plaza fire, fast fashion brands pushed for protections for factory workers and monitored supplier factories. These companies tried to make factory infrastructure safer in Bangladeshi buildings. Unfortunately, this process was, and still is, dreadfully slow. Much more must be done to improve labor standards and working environments in overseas factories.

Brands Taking a Stand

There are some fashion companies are taking a stand against the environmentally and ethically ignorant fashion industry.

Levi Strauss & Co. has recently partnered with Evrnu to make the first pair of jeans made from post-consumer cotton waste, according to Triple Pundit. The waste is broken down into a thin and strong fiber. The entire recycling procedure utilizes 2% of the water typically used in the production of cotton garments.

High-end brands like Stella McCartney are working with Canopy, an organization devoted to conserving endangered forests, according to Fashion Week. Also, business executives and designers collaborate with Canopy in the search for more sustainable supply sources.

Pharrell Williams and G-Star launched a clothing line made of yarn spun from cotton and shredded plastic trash, Vogue reported.

Many smaller brands have devoted themselves to sustainability and ethical labor practices. According the The Good Trade, a nonprofit called Krochet Kids produces trendy clothing while empowering Ugandan and Peruvian artisans through fair wages, education and mentoring programs. Mata Traders steps away from the typical factory scene by directly employing artisans from India and Nepal. Products from Mata Traders are handmade using block-printing and embroidery.

The Good Trade supports PACT, a brand known for its cotton basics produced with non-GMO cotton. Most noteworthy, even children’s brands are getting in on the need for change; mini mioche produces children’s clothing with low-impact dyes and environmentally-friendly materials.

Industry of All Nations manufactures products where the materials originated to create local businesses.

Elegantees employs female survivors of sex trafficking in Nepal to give them a “positive source of income,” according to The Good TradeSseko Designs gives Ugandan woman income that goes to their college educations. In addition, Sseko has given 60 women a chance to get their college educations, as noted by The Good Trade.

How Consumers can Help

Consumers can step up to the plate as well.

In 2013, Natalie Grillon and Shahd AlShehail founded Project Just. The project allows consumers to upvote or downvote brands to heighten transparency and accountability in the fashion industry. The platform also publishes shopping guides for the highest voted brands.

“I research and write about the issues in fashion for both my own blog, EcoCult, and other outlets. Consumers want to know their money is supporting companies that are making an effort to do better, and keep their money out of the hands of unscrupulous companies that pollute the environment and exploit workers. But these efforts can feel piecemeal, and I know that after a couple weeks the buzz around a particular article can die away. That’s why it’s so important what Project JUST is doing: collecting all the information around each brand – articles, reports, investigations – and put it in one place for concerned and curious customers (complete with fun emojis!). It’s an invaluable resource, and important strategy in the overall fight for higher wages, safe working conditions, and clean industry.” – @ecocult, Alden Wicker If you love what we do as much as Alden, head to the LINK IN BIO to support our crowdfunding campaign. Let’s change the way we shop! #IAMJUST #bethechange

A photo posted by JUST (@projectjust) on

Transparency is necessary for success in today’s market. According to Triple Pundit, Grillon said consumers “want to know the story behind the brand, relate to the brand on a personal level and a values level.”

Through consumer demand for transparency, sustainability, and ethical conduct, companies will be forced to adapt to these desires. By supporting brands that strive to better their workers and the planet, consumers can change the faces of fashion companies.

A photo posted by JUST (@projectjust) on