Generally, the “Made in…” label either instills confidence through a collective understanding of craftsmanship and quality or the opposite, instantly conjuring up images of shoddy working practices and cheaply made pieces. But how much can we really rely of these given assumptions?
Being based in the UK, a country with strict working regulations, it comes as such a shock to discover that sweatshops are not isolated to developing countries alone, but actually exist here too. Brought to the surface in an undercover news item by Channel 4 Dispatches at the start of the year, it uncovered poor working conditions in fast fashion factories located in Leicester, home to a third of the UK’s fashion manufacturing. On a separate visit, they also discovered workers being paid less than half the national living wage and working conditions that posed a serious fire risk.
Image courtesy: drapersonline.com
As the months passed, news of this revelation sadly faded from public discussion. Until Vogue.co.uk published a piece this week, with ethical fashion author and journalist Tamsin Blanchard speaking with the Ethical Trading Initiative‘s Debbie Coulter about the working standards in Leicester and what we can do as consumers.
In fact, Leicester and the factories involved, have been the subject of ongoing investigations into unsafe conditions, blocked fire exits, and £3 per hour wages for the past three years, since the Ethical Trading Initiative – which campaigns for workers’ rights around the globe – commissioned a report on clothing manufacturing in the area.
“People will be shocked, but it’s not exaggerating the reality of the situation,” says Debbie Coulter, Head of Programmes at the ETI. £3 per hour is an average wage, although she has spoken to women who were being paid as little as £1 per hour.
Demand for British-made fast fashion is rising, since increased shipping costs means that it’s cheaper to manufacture in the UK for local markets rather than import from Asia or Bangladesh. Those exposed included Boohoo and Missguided.
With so many fast fashion brands sacrificing fair and safe working conditions in order to offer new and dirt cheap fashion every week, to learn of it happening anywhere is sickening, but it’s especially egregious when it’s happening in a country that has laws in place to prevent these abuses.
Image courtesy: RIXO London
What can we do a consumers? Don’t be turned off by the ‘Made in Britian’ label. For the most part, brands that produce locally are making a conscious effort to manufacture in an ethical manner. Start supporting local brands that care about the people who make our clothes: from Patrick Grant’s Community Clothing, which is committed to bringing fair textile work back to the UK; to ultra cool new label RIXO London, who create beautifully unusual hand-painted printed pieces by working with highly skilled English factories to produce.