Socially responsible shopping poses challenge

Bangladesh disaster: Socially responsible shopping poses challenge – Boulder Daily Camera. As a follow up on the fall down of the Rana Building In Bangladesh, the second disaster in Bangladesh garment factories in five months, comes the follow up question: How do you buy “ethically made” clothing? The article was published on April 30, 2013 in the Boulder Daily Camera and on May 5, 2013 in the Mercury News.

‘Ethically made’ Clothing poses challenge

Few Options for consumers after Bangladesh disaster by Anne D’Innocenzio (Associated Press)

New York – You can recycle your waste, grow your own food and drive a fuel-efficient car. But being socially responsible isn’t so easy when it comes to the clothes on your back.

Take Jason and Alexandra Lawrence, of Lyons, Colo. They eat locally grown food that doesn’t have to be transported from far-flung states. They fill up their diesel-powered Volkswagen and Dodge pickup with vegetable-based oil. They even bring silverware to a nearby coffeehouse to avoid plastic utensils.

But when it comes to making sure that their clothes are made in factories that are safe for workers, the couples fall short.

“Clothing is one of our more challenging practices,” says Jason Lawrence, 35, who mostly buys secondhand. “I don’t want to travel around the world to see where my pants come from.” (Cop out – Blog Editor’s note, he just refuses to see.)

Last month’s building collapse in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of clothing factory workers (over 1100) put a spotlight on the fact that people in poor countries often risk their lives working in unsafe factories to make the inexpensive garments Westerners covet.

The disaster, which comes after a fire in another Bangladesh factory killed 112 people in November, also highlights something just as troubling for socially conscious shoppers: It’s nearly impossible to make sure the clothes you buy come from factories with safe working conditions. (I disagree with that last statement. -Ed.)

Few companies sell clothing that’s “ethically made,” or marketed as being made in factories that maintain safe working conditions. In fact, ethically made clothes make up just 1% of the overall $3 trillion global fashion industry.

It’s even more difficult to figure out if your clothes are made in safe factories if you’re buying from retailers that don’t specifically market their clothes as ethically made. Major chains typically use a complex web of suppliers in countries such as Bangladesh, which often contract business to other factories. That means the retailers don’t always know the origin of clothes made overseas. (And they don’t want to know. -Ed.)

And even a “Made in USA” label only provides a small amount of  assurance for a socially conscious shopper. For instance, maybe the tailors who assembled the skirt may have had good working conditions. But the fabric might have been woven overseas by people who do not work in a safe environment. (For this type of garment, the label should read, “Made or assembled in the U.S.A from imported fabric. -Ed.)

Most global retailers have standards for workplace safety in the factories that make their clothes. And companies typically require contractors and subcontractors to follow these guidelines. But policing factories around the world is a costly, time-consuming process. (So? In essence, you are saying that the companies that were so cheap in the first place that they outsourced the U.S. jobs to Bangladesh  are, also,  too cheap to check and see if their minimum standards are adhered to. -Ed.)

In fact, there were five factories in the building that collapsed in Bangladesh last month. The produced clothing for such big-name retailers as Children’s Place.

Some experts say that retailers have little incentive to do more because the public isn’t pushing them to do so. (Bold print was my idea. -Ed.)

America’s Research Group, which interviews 10,000 to 15,000 consumers a week on behalf of retailers, says that even in the aftermath of two deadly tragedies in Bangladesh, shoppers seem more concerned with fit and price than whether their clothes were made in factories where workers are safe and make reasonable wages. (Such a sad commentary on Americans. -Ed.)

In the light of the recent disasters, though, some exports and retailers say things are slowly changing. They say more shoppers are starting to pay attention to labels and where their clothes are made. (Yeah! – Ed.)

Fair Trade USA, a non-profit that was founded in 1998 to audit products to make sure workers overseas are paid fair wages and work in safe conditions, is hoping to appeal to shoppers who care about where their clothing is made. In 2010, it expanded the list of products that it certifies to include clothing. (Their website is fairtradeusa.org)

The organization says it’s working with small businesses that sell items to big merchants. It also says it’s in discussions with other big-name brands.

Fair Indigo is an online retailer that sells clothes and accessories that are certified by Fair Trade USA, including $59.90 pima organic cotton dresses, $45.90 faux wrap skirts and $100 floral ballet flats. (Here is the link to Fair Indigo and the “Made in USA” for women).

Daisy Organic Made in USA t-shirt

Daisy Organic Made in USA t-shirt

Rob Behnke, Fair Indigo’s co-founder and president, says some shoppers are calling and citing the latest fatalities in Bangladesh. End of article.

Blog Editor’s Comments

It is not that difficult to purchase ‘ethically made’ clothing. First, you have to be aware and care. You don’t have to travel to Bangladesh to know that it probably isn’t safe working conditions or fair pay. One must realize that clothing coming “”modern, civilized countries” like: the United States, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, Norway and The Western part of the European Union, including the Scandanavian countries. Purchasing a “Made in USA” garment is an ethically safe choice. There is a question if the fabric may come from another country, but then it will be identified on the label. So read the label. If you must be 100% sure, purchase a “Made in USA” garment where the material and the manufacturing is made in the USA.

The European Union (the second choice after the United States)

These are the European Union nations: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden. The European Union usually will have safe working conditions and fair wages ( definitely the countries of Western Europe are ethically safe, the Eastern Bloc countries are not as solid).

The Other Countries

So, we have identified the ethically safe countries, but what about the rest. I will divide these into two groups, the first group is highly probably not ethically safe (greater than 90% not ethically safe) and the second group which is indeterminate – possibly safe, maybe not.

The Ethically unsafe countries

These are the countries that are usually very poor countries overall, that have a very low wages and poor or non-existent safety standards for workers and a poor track record of making things under fair wage and fair/safe conditions.

In an overall view, the Ethically unsafe countries would include: China ( the biggest violator), the east Asian countries and islands, Central America, South America (except Argentina), the Middle East (except Israel), Russia and its previous territories, and all of the African nations. Listing of some more of the countries: Sri Lanka, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Peru, Columbia, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Panama, Brazil, Russia Mexico and all of the African nations – 95% of the factories will have unsatisfactory working conditions. So, avoid them at all costs.

The Undetermined Countries

This list of countries is for countries that have the potential of decent wages and decent working conditions, but does not necessarily mean they are a safe choice. These countries include Taiwan, S. Korea, The Bahamas, Turkey, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Poland, the American Pacific Island Territories, and the Baltic Countries. One of the ways to see if a country pays a decent wage is to click this link to Wikipedia on minimum wage per country.

Buy Ethically and Buy American and always avoid the unethically made garments from Bangladesh, China and other poor countries. As of May 17, 2013, the death toll of the Bangladesh building collapse is over 1,100 people.


1 Response to “Socially responsible shopping poses challenge”

  1. 1 Amy
    May 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for posting this article. Very interesting read. It is very discouraging to hear that people care about working conditions in other countries, but not if it means they have to go a little bit out of their way to make sure their clothes were made in safe conditions or possibly spend a few dollars more.

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