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Can Fast Fashion Be Ethical?

2/3/20 | Maia Hatchett

The convenience of cheap clothing is robbing the invisible creators that make the clothing sold in stores. The fast-paced business model of the fast fashion industry, where the margins of the supply chain are squeezed at the point of production or manufacturing, have created a disproportionate gap in the price of clothing sold, profit made for business, and how much the creators of the product are paid. Sustainability in the fast fashion industry is already an oxymoronic concept in itself but could the fast fashion truly be ethical? According to a recently published Quartz article, the answer to that question may be no.

The Public Eye, a Swiss investigative group focused on human rights and corruption, traced the life of a hoodie from Zara’s “Join Life” line. Join Life markets as sustainable and claims that suppliers receive top ranks in audits. According to the Public Eye, however, the wages paid to the workers that created the hoodie are barely enough to live on. The black Zara hoodie, printed with “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, manufactured in factories in Turkey and priced at €26.67 or $34.67 was investigated by the Public Eye partnered with the Clean Clothes Campaign, a network of organizations and unions dedicated to improving conditions for garment workers, and found the following breakdown of the cost of this Zara hoodie:

Although this hoodie may not be representative of all of Zara’s products the conclusion Public Eye drew from its investigation was, “even for Zara’s ‘Join Life’ line, which is supposed to be particularly sustainable, the price pressure on producers is so immense that ultimately those who pay the highest price for Inditex’s profit are the people who make the business possible in the first place—the factory workers.”
The amount representing worker wages in Public Eye’s estimate of Zara’s costs for its hoodie across 6 different types of workers only amounted to €2.09 or $2.72.

The main overarching issue of the get workers fair wages in the fast fashion industry comes back to the relationship between consumers and producers and business ethics in other countries. The code of conduct that Zara set for workers to be paid a living wage set standards that far exceed the ability for governments in their respective countries to meet. Paired with the intention of outsourcing labor to countries with lower regulations to keep prices low and profits high undercut this intended outcome for their code of conduct and the codes of conduct for many other fast fashion brands. This effort dabbles in governance and fails to recognize the tradeoffs that dabble in human rights abuses. Lastly, as long as there is a demand from consumers for cheap clothing the funding of unfair wages will likely continue as most fast fashion brands have no incentive or motivation to truly solve the problem of unfair wages to workers who create their product. The question of ethics here is linked directly to sacrifice and who should make it for ethical fashion to emerge. As long as the responsibility is pushed off to the invisible workers in the supply chain of fast fashion it will never be truly ethical for me as a consumer to walk into Zara and purchase almost any of their products.

Source: “Zara’s Sustainable Sweatshirt Raises Troubling Fashion Ethics Issues” Quartz. Nov. 2019

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