Where can I buy 'clean' clothes?

published 17-01-2013 14:45, last modified 10-05-2013 01:39
We know that you would like a list of 'good' brands, so you know where to shop (and where to stop!). The answer is unfortunately not as clear as a 'good' and a 'bad' list...

The Clean Clothes Campaign exists to help empower garment workers on the ground to improve their conditions.

In other words: we choose not to operate as a consumer label that investigates everything there is to know about every brand. Instead, we focus on labour conditions and push for living wages, safer factories and innovative ways to empower workers to fight for their rights.

Yet we also understand that as a consumer who needs or wants to buy clothes, you want to do this in the best possible way. So here are our suggestions for how you could go about this task, now, in an imperfect industry, in order to support workers' rights on the ground.

First things first: Take Action!

It is above all vital that we think of ourselves not only as consumers, but also as conscious citizens who are concerned about the conditions in which the products we buy are produced.

Your voice has a real impact. You can share your concern about the lack of respects for workers' rights and tell companies what kind of products we want. Together, we can convince companies to take action on workers' rights.

Everyone can use their power as consumers and citizens to pressure companies to respect workers' right. 

How? Look here for what you can do!

Buy 'Ethical'

There are lots of companies who brand themselves as 'ethical' and retail across Europe and the Internet. Each of these companies has a different standard by which they define themselves as ethical, be it environmental credentials, organic cotton, fair trade cotton, or workers rights. It is important for these companies to be transparent about what their 'ethical' approach is about and to report publicly on their efforts.

Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing – many brands are called ethical but some are only based on a few environmental credentials. If you want to support workers rights, check that the brands you are buying support these too. You can ask your favourite brands about these things or look on their websites for further information. See below for what to look for and which questions to ask.

Buy from popular brands and retailers who are doing more to improve workers' rights.

The Clean Clothes Campaign wants to encourage companies who have taken some steps to improve workers' rights. No brand is totally perfect. There is no magic answer. However, some brands are doing more to help workers than others. We would like consumers to buy from companies that take steps to implement the Full Package Approach, in order to encourage them to keep doing it!

If you want to find out if your favourite brand is doing this already, you can look on their websites or request more information.

Tips to recognize who does more:

Of course everybody can decide for themselves what is most important, but Clean Clothes Campaign expects companies to:

  1. have a comprehensive code of conduct. This means it addresses all ILO norms , such as the right to join a union and the right to a written contract.
  2. take serious steps to implement this code. For instance, we call on companies to critically monitor the way they buy their own clothing and to take measures to work towards the payment of a living wage.
  3. undertake credible stakeholder participation. This can include multi-stakeholder initiatives, but should always include formal possibilities for the workers to have a voice in the way the company operates.
  4. actively support freedom of association and collective bargaining. See the Full Package Approach for a full explanation.

Questions you could consider asking the brand:

  • What do you do to ensure decent working conditions in the factories where your clothes are made?
  • How do you support workers being able to negotiate their own working conditions?
  • Are you confident that the price you pay for your garments is enough to ensure that the workers who make them earn a sufficient wage to support themselves and their family?

If you are not sure how to evaluate the brand's answer, you are welcome to ask the CCC for assistance!

Vintage fashion and second hand clothing is also an option

As a consumer you can buy things from second hand stores, borrow, swap, and generally find ways to buy less new clothing. The Clean Clothes Campaign supports this, as it is one way to slow down the ever increasing speed with which we consume clothing.   This approach also pays heed to the environmental problems of clothing waste and over consumption of materials.

However, we don't propose this as the simple solution to the industry's problems. Jobs for workers in the fashion industry are a life line for many. We feel it is our job to promote these jobs, but advocate for them to be well paid and secure. Buying less first hand clothing could slow down production, reduce pressure in workplaces, and help improve conditions. But it could also cause job losses for workers who rely on the fashion industry for their livelihoods, and not improve workplace pressure at all. We have no way to measure this effect. (Yes, we know it's not a pretty picture!)

It is also important to mention the big problem of waste created by the second hand clothing business. It is often the case that second hand clothing, when not sold, is dumped on emerging markets in developing countries, and their local fashion industry is damaged. If and when you support a second hand clothing retailer, it is important to ask questions about their waste and ensure that it isn't having this effect.

We realize that this is not a very clear answer, but it is all we are in a position to give, right now. The main point is that, as with first hand clothes, it is important to be aware of the possible effects of our actions, also when buying second hand or vintage. Clearly the long term solution to all these issues is that changes in the production process have to be introduced in which respect for workers' rights are embedded.