I came across this post on Instagram posted by @theniftythrifter_, highlighting the exploitation of black people and people of colour in the garment industry. In 2018, it was reported that garment workers in Leicester, UK were being paid below minimum wage. The article explained that Leicester’s garment industry is detached from the UK’s employment law. You can read the full report here.
At the time of publication, the UK minimum wage was £7.83 per hour for people 25 and over (as of April 2020 it’s £8.72). Workers in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 per hour. The report revealed that as well as low pay, workers were not granted holiday or sick pay, had to work with old machinery, and blocked fire escapes.
Executive Director of ETI, Peter McAllister said that ‘brands hold a lot of power over their suppliers and need to recognise that unreasonable demands are likely to drive poor working conditions for garment workers.’ At the same time ‘suppliers exploit their workers.’
The supply chain in fast fashion is unequal at every stage; however, garment workers suffer the most as retail’s low prices mean that suppliers can’t improve working conditions or provide fair pay. Manufacturers are even starting to sell directly to consumers to create a decent profit and pay their workers fairly.
Brands ‘chase the cheap needle around the planet,’ with lots of brands having factories abroad because it’s cheaper. But, despite UK employment laws, Leicester seems to have its own rules. Rules that the government is fully aware of. Mick Cheema, Ethical Clothing Manufacturer in Leicester, proposes two solutions: retailers sourcing a percentage from ethical factories and government’s enforcing law.
Boohoo’s Code of Conduct documents states that they have a number of regulations in place to ensure fair treatment of workers. But, the evidence ends there. There is no transparency that they carry out these regulations in their international factories.
When Boohoo and other fast fashion retailers sell dresses for as little as £4, you have to question how they are able to do this. Somewhere along the supply chain, someone is suffering because of the low prices.
Today, there have been queues outside fast fashion retailer, Primark, as UK government gave permission to open retail stores on 15th June. I have previously written about Primark’s amorality, but we mustn’t shame those that are queuing outside. They may have children who have outgrown their clothes during lockdown. People have been made redundant/furloughed because of the pandemic. Charity shops are still closed due to the pandemic, and those that are opening are under a lot of pressure to sort through donations and quarantine them for at least 72 hours before selling. These are not the people we should be calling out when it comes to boycotting the fast fashion industry. We shouldn’t be shaming low income families for providing. I am lucky to be able to shop from ethical and sustainable brands and find my size easily in charity shops and on sites like Depop. Let’s start questioning the industry and ‘throwaway’ culture rather than shaming those that have no choice.