by Sage Campbell
Photo by Oleg Baliuk
Now that consumers are becoming more aware of the impacts of their purchases, many want to know if their clothes are ethically made. But what does this mean, and why is it important?
What does Ethically Made mean?
Ethically made means that a product was made a way that does not harm or exploit workers that made the item. When something is “ethically made”, the buyer can be assured that their purchase is not funding unethical treatment of workers such as low wages, a dangerous work environment, child labor and unreasonable work hours. Another common way to refer to these products is “sweatshop free”.
Does It really matter?
The main reason people will opt for something that isn’t ethically made is because it is cheaper. When manufacturers don’t have to pay workers a living wage or for overtime, use child workers and can force them to work many hours, they can produce many more products for much less money. This is great for the consumer who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on a shirt or sweater, but it’s terrible for the workers who made them. These workers essentially have no rights, and they are the ones ultimately paying the price for cheap garments that consumers in first world countries demand.
How do you know if it’s ethically made?
If a product is ethically made, the company selling the garment should supply proof of that. They usually have this information online. For example, one well known organization that regulates worker conditions is the Fair Wear Foundation. They ensure that human rights violations do not take place in the manufacturing of clothing based on United Nations principles. They check for eight labor standards: (1) Employment is freely chosen, (2) there is no discrimination (3) or child labor, (4) workers’ freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected, (5) payment of a living wage, (6) reasonable hours of work, (7) a safe and healthy work environment and a (8) legally binding employment relationship.
What if you can’t afford ethically made clothing?
Because people living in first world countries are so accustomed to buying many clothes and wear the latest trends, it may feel like they “need” to buy clothes when they really don’t. So if it is tempting to buy a garment made in a sweatshop because we cannot afford the ethically made version, it’s important to take a step back and reflect if this garment is something we really need or something we want. In most cases, we don’t need the garment. So then we must ask ourselves, is funding the exploitation of workers worth something we don’t even need in the first place?
But what if we do really need the garment for an interview or for your job? If we cannot buy the ethically made version, then before opting for the cheaper sweatshop version, we should check out our local thrift stores like Goodwill. Thrift stores sell used clothing that is normally still in great and wearable condition. People living in more densely populated areas usually don’t have too much trouble finding items they need, but it can be more of challenge if you live in a rural area that may not even have a thrift shop. Then what?
Used Clothing Apps
Another option is using apps like Poshmark and ThredUp. People post their clothes on these apps for others to buy. This can be even more convenient than going to a thrift store, because you can easily narrow down your favorite brands and size to find exactly what you’re looking for. This is usually much cheaper than buying them in the store.
So we have many options whether we have a lot of money to spend or only a little. With appropriate planning, we never have to directly support sweatshop labor ever again.