Every season has its fashion shows, both in nature and in clothing. Autumn, with its brilliant coloring, is one of the most exciting in nature, and is almost as fertile in the human world with new runway styles from the fashion designers. But, what is ethical fashion?
Ethical fashion looks beyond the high-stress, altruistic design studios of the famous clothing designers. It even goes beyond the less altruistic, yet equally high-stress distributorships of these designs. Big box stores may sell millions of knock-offs from the runway styles, enabling the common folk to wear what appears to be designer clothing, but how did the goods get from the design table to your local clothing rack? What makes those items available for your purchase?
Ethics, actually seldom come to play with most clothing manufacturers. Much like any other business, the distributor often takes bids on a new clothing line, looking for whomever can produce the clothing for the least amount. It is not the distributor’s job to supervise work conditions in the factory with which they contract – their job is to make the product available.
Who is responsible for the ethics of a healthy, safe workplace? If not the distributor’s responsibility, then whose? One could say that the responsibility of the government in charge of regulating commerce in the country that wins the bid. Others point out that, in developing countries, workers rights are not a priority, but rather increased business opportunities are the priority. One could also say that the workers in these undeveloped countries should stand up for better conditions. But, in countries with millions of people out of work, the chance at a regular paycheck, no matter how small, is a goldmine.
Perhaps the companies themselves should take the responsibility to enforce safe workplaces and reasonable wages. While this is usually the most desirable answer, it is often the hardest to attain.
These matters only affect the pay and working conditions of the employees of the fashion industry. There is a whole other set of problems with the use of eco-friendly dyes, and the chemicals used in synthetic material production.
Many sub-standard fabric mills pollute local streams and lakes with runoff from their processing plants. While this has been closely monitored in the U.S., and heavy fines are levied against perpetrators, in undeveloped countries, not so much.
In the U.S., “living wage” is used as a standard for many wishing to raise minimum wage. However, in undeveloped countries, where much of the material for our clothing is made, a living wage is just enough to put food on the table. Living standards in these countries are far lower than those of even some of the poorest Americans. Ethical fashion strives to make sure these people are recompensed to the point where they can hope to improve their lots.
Wherever the responsibility lies, ethical fashion will not happen until it becomes a priority. Consumers, manufacturers, and even the designers themselves can make a difference in the ethics of the fashion industry.