Unethical Fast Fashion Brands to Avoid
Note: This article was written in 2016. Read the 2019 version here.
Since the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013 that saw the death of 1,129 Bangladeshi garment factory workers, awareness of the exploitation in the fashion industry has skyrocketed.
Increasingly, consumers are becoming aware of Fair Trade ideals and are now seeking brands that proudly advocate for ethical fashion. Meanwhile, Livia Firth's concept of the #30wearschallenge and the zero-waste movement are endorsing secondhand shopping, clothes rental and most importantly, re-wearing our own outfits.
Sixty years ago people just owned a few outfits to alternate through. They mended clothes that needed repair, re-cobbled shoes, and sewing their own clothes was much more common.
Today, the culture of mending damaged products has petered out, our home economics skills have been forgotten, and it has been replaced with a culture of seasonal trends and shaming of "outfit repeating". With fleeting seasonal trends and some stores releasing weekly collections, women today tend to only wear items for five weeks before upgrading to the latest colour or cut.
According to both IBISWorld and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average Australian spends $1,000-$1,500 on new clothes per year. That's a good $30bn a year, and the most of any country in the world. Due to our wealth, our consumption of unnecessary products is overwhelming. We buy and buy and buy, but the more we buy, the more corners have to be cut to meet demand.
When you pause and consider the labour involved in the production of each and every garment, you can begin to appreciate the stress the fashion industry is under to keep up with demand. How are they managing to pay adequate wages and take due environmental care while producing so many items so quickly?
My earlier blog Responsible Fashion covered the general ethical issues tied up in over-consumption of fashion specifically, and my entire blog section on Minimalism covers the personal harm from over-consuming. What I thought would be useful now is a hard and fast list of brands we should non-negotiably avoid until they agree to turn things around and respect all workers along their supply chain.
The following are a list of the worst known fashion companies in Australia that deserve to be boycotted in defence of human rights, listed in no particular order.
1. The Just Group
The Just Group spans the above fashion brands. The Just Group consistently receives failing grades in all independent investigations into working standards. They refuse to comply with industry standards, choose not to publish which factories they work with, and have not yet signed the Bangladesh Fire & Building Safety Accord.
2. Best & Less
Best & Less have refused to provide information on their suppliers or to sign the Bangladesh Fire & Building Safety Accord. With potentially the lowest prices in Australia, it's difficult to imagine any of their factory workers are receiving an award wage.
3. Factory X PTY LTD
Factory X includes the above popular fashion labels, but the company itself has no public website and provides no information on ethical standards. They have not admitted where they produce their clothing, and they have made known no efforts to address worker exploitation.
4. Rip Curl
While Rip Curl's clothes are labelled Made in China much of it has been made in North Korea, one of the countries with the worst human rights records on the planet. While they don't have adequate transparency in their factories, slavery is assumed.
5. Topshop & Topman
Owned by Arcadia Group, these brands are known to use sweatshops and child labour. Arcadia Group is also guilty of offshore tax evasion and refusing to provide information on their factories.
6. Hanesbrands Inc
Hanesbrands Inc owns another company called Pacific Brands, so together they own the above brands + several more underwear companies. Their sweatshops have been found to have systemic sexual abuse of young foreign workers and rampant wage theft. They operate in countries with low human rights standards such as Jordan and Haiti.
7. VF Corporation
The parent company of these jeans companies has no policy to assure a living wage for its employees, has links to child labour and wage theft, is known to use sweatshops, and is guilty of many other workers' rights violations.
I've accumulated the above information from a variety of sources to determine the worst seven known labels. I try not to take any one review as gospel and focus on those brands that are collectively agreed upon across a variety of independent organisations. If a brand name appeared that I had never heard of, I didn't feel that label was important enough to investigate further when there are bigger brands with higher revenue creating more damage.
The biggest thing to be mindful of is that just because a name doesn't appear on this list, doesn't mean they're an ethical brand. The above seven companies are basically as low as you can go, the worst of the worst. They risk the lives of their bonded-labour employees just to give you poor-quality clothing at unrealistically low prices. Beating their non-existent standards isn't much of an achievement. To find brands with real standards, you can read my prior post here: Australia's Top 15 Ethical Brands.
Perfection in consumerism isn't easy, so defining certain brands you won't buy can be an easier way to take those first steps towards change than picking only a handful of brands you will buy. So if you need, jot these down. Make a physical list. Stick it in your wallet or on your wall. Next time you go shopping on Bourke St, remember back to what you'd read about them. With so many competitor labels across Australia, there's little sacrifice involved in saying 'no' to human rights violations.
It's important that these brands know that their customer-base won't stand for this kind of behaviour moving into 2017. Our collective consciousness is growing and we're increasingly aware of the impact of our consumer choices on those invisible names and faces on the other side of the world that made our possessions so that we could enjoy them. By boycotting known abusers we send the message that we're making better choices by not just avoiding naughty companies, but also raising our voices and letting others know why.