There’s a real sense of enough is enough when it comes to ethical purchasing practices in the fashion industry lately.

In the last week alone, protests erupted in Bangladesh in response to a demand for an increase in minimum wages, action that threatened the country’s bustling manufacturing sector.

Workers have been rallying over the past week for a minimum wage of Tk23,000 ($209.14) and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has announced its commitment to implementing the government-established wage board’s recommended new pay structure for their employees starting this December, after it instructed its member factories to close to protect both workers’ lives and factory properties following the death of two garment workers and a factory fire.

While in Sri-Lanka women-led unions are urging for an inclusive consultation process prior to the potential adoption of proposed labour reforms.

The unions argue that the existing consultation process lacks representation from women labour leaders and representatives from various unions, despite the fact that these decisions significantly impact women-dominated industries and sectors.
It’s frankly incomprehensible that in 2023, in a world that – for the most part – advocates for women’s rights, equal opportunities and human rights, the backbone of the fashion industry – the garment makers themselves – are begging to be paid their worth and treated equally.

The impact of poor fashion purchasing practices

It begs the question; why are fashion brands still sleeping on the subject of ethical sourcing? Why are they indirectly profiting from labour exploitation?

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By GlobalData

For too long the global fashion industry has continued to rely on cheap, overseas labour. In fact, it continues to do so. According to GlobalData, apparel company filings in Pakistan surged in 2022 while mentions of UK apparel company filings fell sharply.

But campaign groups are warning fashion brands and retailers not to shirk responsibility when it comes to the people at the end of the supply chain.

Clean Clothes Campaign said fashion brands sourcing from Bangladesh have “an undeniable role in the recent developments as well” noting many brands sourcing from Bangladesh “refused to put out a public statement in support of trade unions’ demand for Tk23,000, ignoring several requests to do so from trade unions and CCC”.

CCC is calling on all brands sourcing from Bangladesh to condemn the violence used against workers demanding a minimum wage, confirm their commitment to fair pricing, call for the demands of workers and independent trade unions to be heard by the Wage Board and ensure that workers’ right to freedom of association is protected.

Again I circle back to this question: Why are poor purchasing practices in fashion still dominating headlines? In 2023? The era of ‘wokeness’?

The honest answer is I have no idea. One might hope the people at the top of the food chain might have more decency and morals and assume greater responsibility and accountability in ensuring fair treatment of the people powering their businesses. But then you’ve got shareholders etc.

We’re not oblivious to the fact that the insane size of the industry, with its sprawling supply chains, makes it much more complex. It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and not pay attention to the guy at the end of the road. But it’s not an excuse. And unless fashion brands and retailers act quickly to clean up their supply chains and get to know the ins and outs of every factory they work with, they are likely to find themselves in hot water when laws requiring them to do so come into play.

The uptake on digital product passports has surged in recent months. A digital product passport is to help increase transparency and accountability throughout supply chains.

Last week Avery Dennison announced the launch of its Digital Product Passports as a Service (DPPaaS) to help brands prepare for European Union Digital Product Passport legislation, news that comes shortly after the European Parliament announced steps it is taking to prevent products made by forced labour from entering the EU market by proposing a new legislation framework to investigate the use of forced labour within corporate supply chains.

To conclude the time to fix up is now. Brands have a duty and a moral obligation to ensure the people working within their supply chains are treated responsibly and compensated fairly. Whatever steps need to be taken to make that happen, must be actioned, stat.

Top stories on Just Style from last week

Bangladesh concerned over future fashion orders as unrest continues
As garment worker unrest over minimum wage rates continue and the country prepares for a 2024 election, Bangladesh garment manufacturers tell Just Style they are concerned fashion buyers might reduce future orders.

Shoppers undeterred by ESG concerns as Temu, Shein spearhead global retail
The success of Temu and Shein in capturing UK consumers, despite ESG concerns, in such a short period shows just how disruptive globalised retail could become, with more contenders likely to emerge from China in 2024, according to GlobalData.

Better Cotton introduces traceable cotton solution for brands, retailers
Cotton sustainability initiative Better Cotton has unveiled a traceability solution to help fashion companies accurately trace and disclose the origin of raw materials in line with forthcoming regulations and the growing demand for supply chain transparency.

Higg FEM 4.0, a ‘milestone’ update in sustainability reporting
Global non-profit Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) partnered with impact intelligence platform Worldly to launch the Higg Facility Environmental Module (FEM) 4.0 tool which is a guide on sustainability reporting to meet pressing environmental issues and align industry standards.

Sustainable raw materials are key to future apparel profitability
Non-profit Textile Exchange, business strategy firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and sustainability consultancy Quantis claim apparel brands can increase net profits by 6% through closing the raw materials gap with sustainable sourcing.

Co-branded Shein, Forever 21 range aims to reduce inventory waste
US-based Authentic Brands Group announces a long-term agreement with fast fashion giant Shein for its fashion brand Forever 21.

Shein acquires Missguided IP from Frasers in retail ‘game-changer’
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Authentic Brands reportedly in talks with Asos for Topshop takeover
US-based owner of Ted Baker and Forever 21, Authentic Brands Group, is said to be in talks with ASOS to acquire Topshop.