One of the biggest stigmas that has dogged the clothing industry – and continues to do so – is the plight of the international garment worker. Indeed, there have been scores of reports and documentaries conducted from news outlets the world over that highlights how rough the conditions at a garment factory can get. These conditions are succinctly summarized by the catch-all phrase “sweat shop,” and it has given rise to the notion that the world of the garment factory is somewhat lawless and immune to various practices and procedures that would otherwise keep them in order.
However, such mindset ignores the fact more and more garment factories around the world are moving forward to implementing ethical trading practices at a perpetually growing rate, complete with granting worker’s rights which include legal benefits.
A Look at Ethical Trading
Ethical trading as it exists in the garment factory worker environment is dictated by what is known as the Ethical Trading Initiative, also known as ETI. This particular initiative is a critical alliance of companies, trade unions, and voluntary organizations armed with the singular goal of improving the lives of poor and vulnerable workers from around the world, including those who toil within the garment factory business.
The term ethical trade means that the retailers, brands, and their suppliers of goods such as garments work together and take responsibility for improving the working conditions of the very people that create the products that are sold worldwide. Most of the workers that this mindset touches are employed by supplier companies all throughout the globe, but with a special concentration in poor countries where the employee protection laws that would otherwise be in place in other parts of the globe are either inadequate or outright ignored.
The companies that adhere to the precepts of ethical trade adopt a code of labor practice. This particular code comes with the expectations that the garment factory that they do business with also adhere to this code. The code itself addresses several major issues that have been known to infamously plague these workers, such as:
- Work hours
- Health concerns
- Safety concerns
- The right to join free trade unions
The benefit of working with garment factories in Turkey is that they fall under and abide by EU law. What this means is that, unlike places such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, you won’t find any child labour. Furthermore, Turkish garment factories boast some of the best working conditions in the world. It is one of Fashion Design Solutions’s top priorities to ensure any factory or distributor we work with follows ethical trading rules and is audited regularly… we do not support unethical practices!
The Purpose of Ethical Trade
In essence, the inherent purpose ethical trade is to provide a streamlined way in which companies that want to do business with supply chains can tackle uneasy issues in a unified way. This sort of unionized alliance will provide multiple resources that will allow for an easier means to deal with a supplier who, for example, ignores the notion of a living wage or routinely deploys children in the workplace.
Ultimately, the purpose of ethical trade is to bring about positive change for the workers whose rights have routinely been ignored. These rights, ranging from improvements in health and safety to the reduction of child labor and excessive overtime, are in place to create a fairer labor environment. On a larger scale, these rights seek to allow companies that use these garment factories as a means of supply the ability to conduct business with these entities without fear of unearthing unpleasant working conditions that may otherwise run counter to their own company ethics.
Ethical Trade and Ethical Consumerism
Perhaps the biggest impetus behind ethical trade from a business standpoint is to lessen the impact of ethical consumerism that may be brought about in the wake of a company unwittingly working with an unscrupulous supplier that does not promote ethical work environments.
In essence, the term ethical consumerism (also known as ethical consumption, moral purchasing, or green consumerism) is a type of consumer-based activism that is primarily based on a concept known as pound voting. This term is defined more or less as the process in which consumers give approval to a company through their own purchasing power. If a consumer does not like the practices of a particular company, they will not buy a product associated with that company. This act of indirect activism extends peripherally in the garment world; if a company does business with a supplier that is shown to conduct unethical business practices, the consumer may cease to do business with the company until the association with the company that is deemed to be unethical is severed. While this concept of activism may not be widespread enough to cause the downfall of a major corporation, it can have a negative impact on a smaller company’s bottom line. As a result of this, it is essential that any smaller sized company take a good, long look at a supply company and see what their actual policies are, lest they potentially pay a hefty price.
A Long Way to Go
Despite the inroads that ethical trade organizations have made in getting garment factories to conform to more morally favorable conditions in the workplace, it must be noted that conditions for many workers in this industry the world over remain startlingly poor. Researchers have determined that some principles that are fundamental to the rest of globe, such as a worker’s rights to join a trade union and negotiate as a cohesive collective, are still not addressed sufficiently. The research has also derived that several areas that can be linked to a worker’s rights, such as the right to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination, are not being met. Furthermore, there are still reports of workers not receiving wages that are sufficient enough to keep up with the increased price points of essentials for modern living, such as food and fuel.
As such, it is clear that the ethical trade movement still has plenty of steps that must be taken in order to eradicate the scourge of an unfair and unscrupulous work environment. That said, there have been plenty of signs that the initiatives that have been put forth by organizations that seek to remove unethical conditions in the workplace have been making a significant impact in the garment factory industry; so much so, one could remain hopeful in their goal of eradicating these unethical practices for good.