The Western world is a nation of spenders and shopaholics. The heart of the textiles industry is a nation of manual workers and easily exploited labour.
Equally as the price of living in the Western world continues to rise customers demand more product for their buck. And as retailers jostle for business so the only way they can retain customers and keep trading is to keep their prices as low as possible. Customers are less concerned about how the product is made, and more interested in whether it fits their budget. And whilst there are customers who shop ethically most are not that interested and probably primarily from a financial point of view. Otherwise this would be changing.
And since, over the years, we have exported nearly all of our manufacture abroad to cut costs it makes sense for brands to exploit the possibilities there to keep prices down here and stay in business.
Both Gap and H&M have recently come into the firing line again for the treatment of workers in factories in Bangladesh who make clothing for their outlets. And yet again tragic fires at factories in Dakar have also kept the issue of slave labour in the public eye. Brands have been criticised for not keeping an eye on unscrupulous factory owners who make workers commit to long shifts for little pay. Brands, however, are quick to remark that they do carry out checks.
It’s a problem unlikely to go away until we resolve issues with the manufacture process and possibly the only way to deal with that is to get our factories out of the third world and into more stringent regions. But that comes with two new problems. One that we don’t have the provision for manufacturing in our own country. And two, that it’ll drive the cost of products up and customers won’t appreciate that.
Unfortunately it’s the customers fault for driving such a hard bargain when it comes to brand loyalty and their lack of understanding (despite much press coverage) of how the clothes they buy can be sold so cheaply and who is suffering because of it.
Education is the key although there is still a proportion of the population who will always put savings before workers welfare and it may eventually come down to retailers to take the first steps towards a more caring industry when it comes to its workers at least.
In episode two of Robert Peston Goes Shopping – Addiction there are some very telling comments relating to the rise and rising of retail giant Primark. One woman commented that if you buy some for £5 and you wear it once, maybe twice, you don’t feel bad about throwing it away. This concerns me. Not only have we lost our respect for the value of clothing, we don’t even care about what was involved in getting it to us. And that is a very sad legacy for our fashion industry.