Photo: The Music Circle’s Rumble in the Jumble, London.
Cheap food and fashion often means someone, somewhere, is paying the price.
Organisations like Fairtrade aim to stop this by helping people in the world’s most marginalised communities escape poverty, strengthen their districts and promote environmental sustainability.
A good way to know whether a product has been ethically produced and sourced is by checking whether it has the Fairtrade Mark. While a useful trick, this probably isn’t news to you, and it only works for products that you can find in a supermarket. What happens with clothes or accessories? How can we make sure that we are responsible consumers of fashion?
Here at The Circle, we believe that every woman and girl deserves the right to a fair, living wage — and many companies and governments, at present, are failing to withhold this right.
As well as our report on the living wage in the fashion industry, we look at the ways that we, as consumers, can be more ethical when purchasing everything from coffee and tea, to haircare and knitwear.
1. Shop smart, then do your part
Download the Buycott app. It allows you to select the causes you’re most passionate about, such as supporting Fairtrade, boycotting human trafficking and child labour companies, and ending animal testing.
Once you’ve picked the causes important to you, you can scan any potential purchases to see how ethical the company that you’re buying from is and avoid the ones with conflicting campaigns.
2. Ask brands to do better
Never underestimate the power that you have as a consumer. From using things such as the Buycott app, it will soon become clear that some of the brands you use have exploited workers in the past, or still do.
A great way of voting for change is by supporting the brands that are eco-conscious and treat their workers fairly, and avoiding the ones that are not. However, you should also use your voice. The wonderful world of social media makes it easier than ever to make large brands aware of consumers’ wishes, so hop on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and ask these brands to reform. Whether it’s with hashtags, petitions, or even a viral video — make your voice heard.
3. #30wears Challenge
Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now available in abundance, clothes are beginning to be seen as disposable.
A good way of avoiding the “buy and discard” trap is the #30wears challenge, popularized by The Circle co-founder Livia Firth. Next time you’re going to buy an item of clothing or accessory, ask yourself: “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”. If the answer is “yes”, buy it. That way, you will be building a sustainable wardrobe full of clothes that you love and will keep forever.
4. Recycle and upcycle
Even the most conscientious fashion consumers grow out of their clothes sometimes, or their clothes grow out of fashion. Next time you’re having a wardrobe clear-out, consider the following options:
- Donate the garments to charity or a women’s refuge.
- Recycle them properly at a clothing/textile bank (often found in supermarket car parks).
- Fancy getting nifty with a needle? Why not give your clothes a new lease of life? For example, turn an old patterned dress into a new tube skirt, or even a fancy new cushion cover.
5. Support a project
Whether you host a fundraising coffee morning with friends or donate to a project of your choice, there are many ways you can help prevent the exploitation of workers worldwide.
For example, The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, published a report in spring 2017 that set out the legal argument to defend the living wage as a fundamental right, and the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right. The report argues the need to develop a global standard for a living wage.
This, however, is just the beginning of the work The Circle plans to do to ensure that garment industry workers — who are predominantly women — earn a living wage. We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current “race to the bottom” and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry to ensure compliance and accountability for workers to receive a living wage.
To read the report or to make a donation to help create a “race to the top” by protecting the rights of millions of workers and push to getting them a living wage, please see our Living Wage Project page.