We’re rapidly discovering that our fast fashion culture comes with ethical consequences. As recently reported in The Times, a third of all global cotton purportedly comes from Xinjiang – the region of China where many of the Uighur minority are said to work as slaves to service Chinese cotton exports. Closer to home in Leicester, a supplier of Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing was accused of paying workers as little as £3.50 an hour to work in unsafe conditions during the pandemic.
So, what can we do about the epidemic of poor labour standards that often amount to slavery? Here are five ways to avoid paying into this shoddy system.
Watch ‘The True Cost’
William Wilberforce famously said of the 18th Century slave trade ‘you may choose to look the other way, but you cannot say that you did not know’. So, let’s follow his advice and get to grips with the reality of what goes on in the shadows of the fashion industry. Watch the Netflix documentary ‘The True Cost’ for a shocking but important exposé on how fast fashion affects those making our clothes.
Download an ethical shopping app
It can be overwhelming to know where to start if you’re trying to avoid companies that use slavery and forced labour. But there are several apps that do the work for you. The Good On You app ranks almost every fashion brand based on its labour practices and The Buycott allows you to scan the barcode of the item you are purchasing to check on its ethical credentials.
Warning: be prepared to mourn the loss of some of your favourite high-street haunts. But also enjoy the range of gorgeous garments from some unsung heroes of the ethical fashion movement. As an alternative to fast fashion, the Fat Llama app lets you rent clothes from others in your area.
Raise awareness on social media
If you’re a social media user, why not highlight where the most popular brands are sourcing their materials from? Remember those ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirts worn by everyone from Ed Miliband to Benedict Cumberbatch? They were made by women in Mauritius forced to sleep 16 to a room and paid 62p an hour. It was a similar story for the Spice Girls charity t-shirts made to support ‘gender justice’, except this time it was 35p an hour and included worker harassment and abuse. Even if you don’t have a large following yourself, a well-placed query to an influencer about the brands they are endorsing could get people to pay more attention to the origin of their clothes.
Use charity shops
Whilst they might conjure up images of greying, over-washed bras and mismatched shoes, charity shops can be an Aladdin’s cave of clothing. Second hand doesn’t need to mean second best. A top tip: go to the wealthiest high-street you can get to and dip into the charity shops there. You’ll find barely-worn designer dresses, thrust into the British Heart Foundation because the owner wore it once at a party and someone looked at her the wrong way. The charity shop on my nearest snazzy high-street had a sign outside it recently saying ‘Lots of new Hugo Boss today’. Winner. Check out Spectator Life’s guide to the best London charity shops here.
Have a look at companies’ modern slavery statements
There’s a clever piece of legislation that demands that all large companies must disclose the efforts they’re making to find modern slavery in their supply chains. They then have to pop all this information on their websites. Scroll down the homepage of places like John Lewis, ASOS and Marks and Spencer, follow the ‘Modern Slavery Statement’ link and get the updates.
So don’t fear: shopping ethically doesn’t mean you have to start wearing hemp skirts and shoes made of old milk bottles. Slave-free clothing is out there, it just takes a bit of finding. If it means more workers are protected from exploitation it’ll be worth it.