When are we going to stop buying clothes that exploit workers?


In a week that saw Oxfam release its What She Makes campaign, highlighting the fact that, on average, just 4 per cent of the price of a piece of clothing makes it back to the garment worker as wages, came more negative press for fast fashion.

Zara is reportedly selling clothes for which garment workers were paid nothing at all. Shoppers in Istanbul found surprising tags inside their new Zara purchases, which read: "I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn't get paid for it."

According to the Associated Press, a supplier in Zara's chain, Bravo Tekstil, went bust without paying the workers. Some then staged a guerrilla campaign on the Zara shop floor by sneaking the tags inside garments.

Zara's owner Inditex responded to a request for comment from Refinery 29 to say that they are "currently working on a proposal" with unions and other brands who sourced from Bravo (namely, Mango and Next) to "establish a hardship fund for the workers affected by the fraudulent disappearance of the Bravo factory's owner".

OK, sounds reasonable enough. Or does it? The protest tags were not the first sign of a problem. The Tekstil factory closed in July 2016. Unpaid workers launched an online petition then headed to the Turkish courts, which found in their favour.

In September the Clean Clothes Campaign reported: "After more than a year of negotiation Zara, Next, and Mango have not been able to come up with a settlement to fully compensate all 140 workers in the factory. The brands' offer would cover only about a fourth of the amount agreed upon by the workers."

It's a nonsense for brands to palm this off by arguing that they are only the retailers, they don't own the factories, yada yada yada…

Said Bego Demir of Clean Clothes Campaign Turkey: "Brands are principal employers. They have proven time and again that they control every aspect of their orders to their suppliers. Therefore, it is clear that it is in their power to make sure that all workers who produce their apparel receive their monthly wages and are working in safe conditions, and morally they must do so."

Stories like this are too familiar. While unions, charities and campaign groups continue to apply pressure on fashion brands to ensure workers in their supply chains are treated fairly, that is clearly not happening fast enough. Brands persist in avoiding payment of a living wage. Supply chains remain murky.

The shameful stories keep coming – whether it's reports that one in seven female workers in the Indian garment industry hub of Bengalaru has been raped or sexually assaulted at work, or the fact Rana Plaza did not put a stop to unsafe factories in Bangladesh. In July, at least six workers were killed when the Ideal Textile Mills in Munshiganj caught fire. In July, about 10 were killed and more than 50 hurt when a boiler exploded in the Multifabs factory near Dhaka.

Poor garment worker conditions and shocking wages will persist as long as our mindless consumption of cheap clothing does. We need to reconnect with the true value of our clothes because someone always pays the price for too cheap.

Clare Press is the presenter of the Wardrobe Crisis Podcast

Follow her on Instagram here.