Was This Made Ethically? My Quick Guide for Conscious Shopping
The fashion industry's relationship status with ethical labor can best be described as "It's complicated." From truly meaningless "certifications" to a totally convoluted supply chain, regulators have to climb through an obstacle course if they want a clear picture of what's going on in garment factories. And don't think this just happens overseas; sweatshops are a serious and largely unreported problem right here in LA. Though there are hundreds of indie ethical brands popping up around the world, I'm focusing this list on the big brands.
DON'T SHOP HERE
Is $4 an hour a fair wage in LA? I don't think so. Here are the 13 biggest sweatshop offenders in LA, according to the US Department of Labor. Take the pledge with The Garment Worker Center of LA with me to skip these stores this holiday season.
But wait, there's more! Avoid these brands, too:
This brand carries a lot of plus size options, so I know it's become popular for women over size 14, but steer clear. Ethical.org gives BooHoo a D, and Baptist World Aid Australia (BWAA) gave them an F in their 2016 fashion labor ethics and slavery report. The brand is strangely missing from BWAA's 2017 report, which is its own red flag.
According to pretty much every resource on ethical labor standards, a big red flag enters the play for any brand that doesn't publish their supply chain. TopShop does have an ethical policy (as does BooHoo, Forever21, and every other brand that talks a good talk but plays a dirty game), but according to Oxfam Australia, they can't actually show the receipts for how they're enforcing it.
You know that part in Orange is the New Black where they're sewing underwear for cents per hour? That's based on a real scenario involving Victoria's Secret and the prison industrial complex. Sometimes "made in USA" means "Made in a USA penitentiary for slave wages." Yes, this was a long time ago, but the outcry against this news didn't turn a new leaf for the angels brand. Ethical Consumer gave them a 4.5/10 and BWAA gives them a D+. As far as the breakdown of their offenses, it's murky.
Zara proves just how difficult it is to regulate and inspect factories for unethical practices. Though BWAA gave Zara & Zara Home an A for their slavery and labor rights grade in 2017, just last month, customers found labels in their clothes from garment workers in Turkey claiming they haven't been paid. And guess what? As of this writing, those workers STILL haven't been paid. The only way to hold mega retailers responsible is to stop shopping with them. Don't be weak. Stop shopping at Zara.
OK TO SHOP HERE
I've been highly critical of H&M in the past, and I'm still iffy on putting them on the OK list (for all the reasons outlined on Project Just here) but they do seem to take ethics and sustainably seriously. I don't believe fast fashion can ever be close to perfect on ethics due to the disjointed nature of fast fashion supply chains, and I definitely don't believe sustainability and fast fashion can really go hand in hand. BUT, both Oxfam Australia and BWAA give them a seal of approval for ethics, and they do take transparency and action seriously.
I'm on the fence with this one for many of the same reasons as H&M, but I appreciate that the ASOS brand itself carries a larger range of sizes than most, which is an ethical choice in its own right. Oxfam Australia put them on their "Nice" list and BWAA gives them a B-, and they are a member of the Ethical Trade Initiative, experimented with a special ethical collection, and this year, they established their own ethical trade team in their UK office and key sourcing regions, but Rank a Brand still gives them a D grade. I'd like to see more from them.
Uniqlo has finally gotten transparent and published their factory list. They can definitely do more, but it's progress.
Hanes & Jockey
Oxfam Australia applauds the Hanes & Jockey brands (which are now the same company) for their supply chain transparency and commitment to the Ethical Trading Initiative. Jockey actually gets a slightly higher grade than Hanes from BWAA so if you're deciding between the two, go Jockey!
Ethical fashion org Remake Our World endorses Levi's and works with their team (full disclosure: I am also a contributor at Remake) and WBAA gives them a B+. Can they do more? Definitely.
GAP/Old Navy/Banana Republic
I was happy to see the C grade for this company come up to a B- from BWAA this year. Good on You says "It's a Start" for Gap brands, so clearly, there is room for improvement, but there is also movement in the right direction.
Did you know that they're the same company now? The good news is, ADIDAS and Reebok are holding strong to their A grades for ethics from pretty much everybody. There's a reason ADIDAS is my set shoe of choice!
OBVIOUSLY there are more brands than what's on this list, but these are brands I have real research and studies around.
Want to see my sources to do your own digging? Here you go!
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