The facts at a glance
Sustainable, fair clothing On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed. This building, which did not comply with safety regulations, housed a number of small clothing factories. More than 1,200 workers lost their lives. Many of those factories supplied the Western market. The Rana Plaza disaster happened far from the Netherlands, on another continent. Nevertheless, there is a link between factory workers and Dutch consumers. The majority of fashion outlets here, from budget stores to expensive boutiques, sell garments which are produced in the developing countries. How can Dutch consumers help to improve the working conditions of the people who make their clothes?
Imbalance of power
Relationships between the various players on the world textiles market are very uneven. We see a huge number of producers, most clustered in the low-wage countries, and a comparatively small number of large players on the retail side: the Western brands and chain stores. It is these large players who control supply and demand, and thus the entire market. They impose ever higher demands on their suppliers, often at the expense of the environment and working conditions.
Poor working conditions and environmental impact
Cotton-growers and factory workers often face extremely harsh conditions. They must work long hours for very low wages. Child labour regulations are poorly enforced and regularly flouted. As illustrated by the Rana Plaza disaster, the safety of the working environment can also leave much to be desired. There is very little that people in the developing countries can do to influence their own working conditions.
Most are prevented from forming or joining a union in order to stand up for their rights. Mass production also has a significant environmental impact. According to UNESCO, to produce one pair of denim jeans requires some 10,000 litres of water. Moreover, the intensive use of pesticides, dyes and other chemicals causes considerable environmental impact, and is a risk to both workers and consumers.
Given the global dimensions of the textiles chain, it is very difficult to gain a complete picture â€œfrom cotton field to coathangerâ€?. It is equally difficult to control that chain, and impossible to identify a single party with overall responsibility. Is that the farmers and factory owners? The governments of the producing countries? Is it the fashion houses and the governments of the countries in which the finished products are sold, along with consumers themselves? To break the vicious circle and arrive at a responsible, sustainable chain demands that all parties acknowledge and act upon their share of a joint responsibility.
What the Dutch government is doing Lilianne Ploumen is the Minister for Overseas Trade and Development Cooperation. Together with the Bangladeshi government, the Dutch textiles sector and the societal midfield she wishes to tackle the problems which beset the textiles industry in Bangladesh. The Minister also called on all brands and retail chains active in the Netherlands to sign the Bangladeshi Accord of Fire and Building Safety. By 12 June, 49 had done so.
What can consumers do?
Consumers can encourage the industry to adopt more responsible production processes by buying only
clothing which they know to have been produced safely and responsibly, and by demanding that retailers stock only garments which meet these criteria.
Production wages 18 cents, Retail price 29 euros € 0.18 Production wages € 3.40 Materials € 0.27 Overheads € 1.15 Factory’s profit € 2.19 Transport, storage, etc. € 1.20 Agent € 3.61 Brand’s profit € 17.00 Retailer’s costs Total: €29.00
A growing number of Dutch consumers are willing to pay more for their clothing if they can be certain that it has been produced in a responsible manner. The amounts concerned are relatively small. To offer a reasonable living wage, production workers should be paid 45 cents for each T-shirt rather than the current 18 cents. According to the Fair Wear Foundation, this would increase the retail price by just 1%.
Source: OneWorld, June 2013
Rankings Rank a brand and Goede Waar & Co reveal on their websites (now accompanied by smartphone apps) that reveal which clothing brands and retailers devote due attention in their policies to the environment and to working conditions in the low-wage countries, and which do not. They therefore help the consumer to make an informed choice. The websites also allow the consumer to encourage brands to adopt responsible production practices. In June 2013, the companies which perform well according to Rank A Brand include Pants to Poverty, Mud Jeans and H&M (although the latter does not achieve a particularly high score for climate and environment). The site also lists a large number of brands and retailers which are not performing well, because they have failed to publish their policy on environmental protection and workers’ rights, if indeed they have one. In June 2013 this list includes Chanel, Perry Sport, Cars Jeans, Cool Cat and MEXX. Other initiatives which help consumers to make a more informed choice include: • cleanclothes.org : The Clean Clothes Campaign is an international network of trade unions and societal organizations. Its website suggests ways in which consumers can encourage their favourite brands to improve working conditions within the industry.
• Fairwear.org: The Fair Wear Foundation is a non-profit organisation which works alongside factories and companies to improve labour conditions. Over 120 brands have joined the initiative and are listed on the website. • Talkingdress.nl: The Talking Dress website and smartphone app offer a shopping guide for responsible clothing. • Somo.nl: The Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) investigates and reports on injustices within the international clothing chain. • Greenpeace.com: Greenpeace names and shames brands which use toxic chemicals in their production processes.
Further information can be found at www.ncdo.nl/weten. The site includes a factsheet which reports the findings of a Dutch survey about the clothing industry in Bangladesh and the role of the various actors in the chain. There are also ‘dossiers’ of background information on a wide range of relevant global topics, including water, food and energy. The June 2013 edition of OneWorld magazine includes a feature article on ‘dangerous fashion’. See www.oneworld.nl/magazine.
NCDO is the Dutch expertise and advisory centre for citizenship and international cooperation. It promotes public awareness of international cooperation efforts and the importance of active national involvement in this domain. NCDO carries out research, provides information and advice, and stimulates public debate.
This factsheet is published by NCDO, June 2013. NCDO, P.O. Box 94020, 1090 AD Amsterdam, The Netherlands, tel. +31 20 568 8755 www.ncdo.nl