Can cheap fashion ever be ethical? – Quartz, 28 April 2019, Marc Bain
Injecting ethics in the supply chain
“As it has crisscrossed the world in search of ever-cheaper places to manufacture its clothing, the stories of worker abuses that have followed remain depressingly similar: Violence, brutally long hours, dangerous conditions, and pay that amounts to poverty wages continue to surface.
Last year, at one Indian factory supplying a number of well-known brands, workers said they were viciously beaten for daring to join a union. Earlier this year researchers for an aid group found that garment workers in Bangladesh and Vietnam making clothes for big international labels were paid so little they couldn’t adequately feed themselves. A new report found that female garment workers in Vietnam face “systemic” sexual harassment and violence at work.”
Through the WI lens
The main focus of this article is new research from the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of workers in global supply chains. What it set out to examine is the link between business models and labour standards in two industries: fashion and food. Most of the article is about fashion, and the main conclusion is striking: that however much you inspect factories, introduce CSR programmes, and try to improve conditions on a piecemeal basis, if the business model is not designed with an ethical purpose, then the outcomes will almost always be poor.
In the case of fashion, business models too frequently are driven by competition on speed and cost, and the consequence is that supply chains often lack transparency, and factory owners cut every corner imaginable – including sub-contracting out to those with lower standards – to secure contracts. The article highlights the ‘collective action dilemma’ whereby brands fail to take measures they may believe in, because of the risk of losing out to competitors. This provides much food for thought outside the fashion sector; if you are going to adopt a business model, think through how it will play out in terms of your own supply chain. Subscribing to responsible trade organisations like ETI can not only show your commitment to consumers, but can provide a channel to resolve the dilemma of competition driving down standards. Above all, take ownership of your supply chain. Global sourcing can provide valuable jobs and be a catalyst for development in poorer countries; kept at arm’s length it can result in worker misery and products that wear a badge of shame.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
“Behind the jargon what this is really about is how we address the challenge of biodiversity under threat, move away from fossil materials like plastic and concrete, and use nature in a sustainable way, all of which could be summed up by “living in harmony with nature”.”
“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”