Take real steps to support poor workers in the clothing industry

Monthly challenge

December challenge

It should be no news to anyone that the clothing industry has a sad history of paying meagre wages and offering unhealthy working conditions to workers in poor countries, all to reduce the price of the clothing in richer countries by a few cents.

Not so long ago, it was estimated that only 4% of the price Australians pay for clothing goes to the workers who made the item. Those workers were reportedly paid a minimum wage of 39c an hour.

Thus, for example, if Australians were willing to pay an extra 80c for a $20 T-shirt, the worker’s pay could be doubled.

There are easy things we can all do

1. Learn more about the fashion industry, where your clothes come from, and whether the brands you buy have a good track record.

Read the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid or watch the video The True Cost. (Links to a few other videos are below.) Let’s make sure we know some facts.

2. Resolve to stand against exploitation

It is good to be aware and concerned, but that obviously isn’t enough.

Are we willing to pay a little more to support the workers?

3. Buy ethical (where you can)

Use the Ethical Fashion Guide to identify which brands are doing better in the areas of labour conditions and environmental sustainability.

If you don’t live in Australia, you can check out if similar guides are available for your country. But since many of these companies are international, the Australian guide should be relevant elsewhere. You can also find other guides, such as this one produced by Oxfam (though it isn’t nearly as rigorous or comprehensive).

Where you can, it would be good to support brands that specifically set out to be ethical. In Australia, my favourite is Etiko.

It won’t be practical for all clothing purchases to be as ethical as we might like, but we can make a start.

Remember, if it looks like a great bargain, it may be because the workers are getting ripped off. Check it out.

The good news: it’s getting better

The 2019 Ethical Fashion Report is the sixth report, produced annually, from Baptist World Aid. And many companies have improved significantly over that time. More are willing to open their supply chains to scrutiny. More are showing their practices to be more ethical.

The pressure seems to be working.

So the December challenge is to join the movement (if you’re not already in it), pay a little more and sleep easy knowing you’ve paid a more realistic price for your clothing and given garment workers in other countries a little more reward for their efforts.


Photo: ILO Asia-Pacifi, on Flickr.

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