Finding ethics in fashion

Alexandra Moore

Baptist World Aid releases ethics reports of industries to help educate

 

We pay some pretty prices to keep up with the ever-evolving trends in fashion and technology, willingly spending this month’s paycheck on the must-have item of the minute.

The benefit of being “hip” clearly outweighs the merely monetary cost, right?
But money isn’t the only expense at stake.

Although, perhaps unknowingly, we often give up our principles along with our dollars for the sake of looking good.

Is status still worth purchasing products that were made unethically? Where do we draw the line?

The truth is, we don’t draw any lines. Instead, like on many other issues, we remain ignorant or inactive.

Baptist World Aid is an international Christian organization based in Australia devoted to defending the rights of the poor and, ultimately, ending poverty.

As part of this initiative, Baptist World Aid releases a yearly report regarding the ethics of both the fashion and technology industries.

Part of the organization’s “Behind the Barcode” campaign, these reports grade the policies of large companies to help consumers become aware of and inspire action against worker exploitation and modern slavery.

These companies are evaluated on four factors and are given letter grades accordingly.

First, the companies are assessed on their labor policies.

These policies should “address the risk of worker exploitation in supplier and subcontracted factories.” In order to receive a high grade, a company must implement policies which set the minimum working conditions it requires of its sources.

The next grade appraises how well the companies know their suppliers.

Following the production process, this grade measures the extent to which a company has tracked its suppliers at the three key stages of manufacturing and, consequently, also exposes the company’s degree of transparency.

The third score observes the auditing and supplier relations of each company.

This section focuses on how companies manage their relations with suppliers to ensure that the working condition standards set by their labor policies are being met.

Fourth and finally, the companies are graded on worker empowerment.

On average, this is the most poorly scored section. Worker empowerment judges whether workers are given the power to have their voices heard “in the supply chain through trade unions, collective bargaining agreements, and grievance mechanisms.”

One of the most pressing problems within this section, and indeed within the world of production, is child labor.

Thus, companies are also graded on how well they monitor child labor laws.

By identifying, defining, and analyzing these four facets, Baptist World Aid has done our homework for us.

Both fashion and technology reports are published on their website, including free downloads and a quick search to “find out which of your favorite brands are doing the most to protect their workers.”

This initiative has the power to free us from our ignorance as consumers. Yet, although it is a necessary precursor to change, I would argue that awareness isn’t enough.

In order for Baptist World Aid to achieve its goal of ending poverty, awareness must evolve into action.

That’s our cue.

It is our responsibility to be conscious consumers. Thus, our principles of anti-slavery are non-negotiable. This doesn’t seem difficult in print, but what about in practice?

What are we to do when we are faced with the fashionable (and affordable!) siren call of Forever21, a trending clothing brand which received an average grade of D+ from the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report?

Or when the pervasive aroma and shirtless studs of Abercrombie and Fitch, which received a similar grade, haunt us with visions of new jeans?

As I struggle with the temptations myself, I rely on one question to bring me back: do I want to be a hipster or a hypocrite?

Being aware and shopping ethically is a small part to play, but it does make a difference.

By refusing to support companies with poor policies, we can call attention to the global problem of worker exploitation and slavery.

To read the 2017 Ethical Fashion Guide, learn more about Baptist World Aid’s mission, or to donate, go to baptistworldaid.org.au.