Activists to retailers: Shoppers need to know who’s making the clothes

Advocates for garment workers think that people will avoid buying clothing they know was made in a sweatshop.

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SOURCETake Part

The 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza manufacturing complex in Bangladesh, which killed 1,129 workers, put a spotlight on garment workers around the world who still struggle, fighting for a living wage and safe working conditions. When purchasing clothes, consumers may not be aware that they are often contributing to the exploitation of garment workers and supporting nonsustainable practices.

Identifying specific manufacturers for clothing companies is the goal of a new campaign from Labour Behind the Label, a U.K.-based network that advocates for garment workers’ rights. The campaign,“Fix Fashion: Information Is Power,” hopes to pressure brands to publish audit reports and the names and addresses of their supplier factories. The group hopes that disclosing supplier information will not only hold companies accountable to ensure workers rights, but will also allow the public to understand the conditions the workers making their clothes are subjected to.

Factory owners at the Rana Plaza were aware of the dangerous conditions of their facilities and allowed employees to continue working, resulting in the disaster. Families seeking compensation from the clothing brands who used these manufacturers were put on hold due to an inability to identify which retailers were using which factories. Only when labels were picked out of the rubble were families able to identify which companies were liable.

“Consumers have more power than they think. If a store manager has their shoppers asking questions about where their clothes are being sourced, we think they are more likely to listen,” Caroline Lewis, director of fundraising for Labour Behind the Label, wrote in an email to TakePart. “In an industry where garment companies pocket huge profits whilst workers are being exploited at the bottom of supply chains, we want brands to listen to those who produce and buy their clothes.”

Asking a question as simple as “Who is making my clothes?” takes into consideration how workers are being treated, where materials are coming from, and whether or not your clothing has been made sustainably. On average, garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and India receive 70 cents an hour for their 12-hour work days and live in poverty. Publishing supplier lists is one way to help consumers start shopping responsibly and improve conditions for garment workers.

“Some brands are publishing a list of the places where their clothes are made, which shows some promising progress for monitoring human rights,” Sarah Ditty of Fashion Revolution, a global movement that exposes child labor and sweatshop abuses, wrote in an email to TakePart. “Despite all this, most brands do not publish factory lists due to competitive concerns, so there is a long way to go, and campaigns like this will help put pressure on companies to do more.”

Labour Behind the Label is raising funds to support its efforts through a crowdfunding campaign. The approximately $4,500 it hopes to raise by Dec. 19 will enable the organization to train activists and lobby for greater transparency in the fashion industry.

“If brands publish the list of their supplier factories, with audit reports of those factories, it will allow workers to claim their rights,” Lewis wrote. “If workers have access to audit reports, showing whether a brand’s Code of Conduct is being met, it will support them in their negotiations with factories to improve safety conditions, wages or union rights.”

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