Britain’s Cheap Clothes

This week I decided to make use of the TV & Radio subscription service provided by University of Brighton; BoB. This website has hundreds of clips from UK TV and I stumbled upon an episode of Channel 4’s Dispaches from January of this year entitled: ‘Undercover: Britain’s Cheap Clothes.’ The trailer of which can be found above.

In this episode of dispaches, Channel 4 send in a reporter undercover to work within some factories in Leicester that provide clothes for big high street brands such as River Island, Boohoo and Missguided. They soon discovered that the workers within these factories were being paid less than half of the national minimum wage. It was also discovered that health and safety violations within these factories are rife, with hot machinery surrounded by flammable materials. There was even footage of a manager smoking on the factory floor, tipping ash near the textiles.

I’m fairly aware of big high street brands using suppliers that use sweatshops in developing countries. I know the difficulties in monitoring these suppliers as human rights standards in developing countries can be different from our own. However, I have not heard a lot about these sorts of violations happening here within the UK.

In the documentary, it notes that target audiences of these brands demand fast fashion at low prices. Of course in terms of law, only the state can make a human rights violation, rather than the business themselves. However, I do find it incredible that big brands can pay very little for their products and not suspect that they may be involved in human rights violations. The unfortunate truth is that their priority is likely profit and that they don’t care much about anything else.

Within the documentary, it turned out these brands had used these factories previously but then cut ties after an audit found less than ideal conditions. However, even after deciding to no longer use these factories, the companies still recieved garments from them as unfortunately their suppliers decided to subcontract to the factories without the brand’s knowledge. As I’ve said in a previous post, things can get complex when suppliers sub contract work to factories without the buyer’s knowledge. But it still doesn’t seem that difficult to put in place a more thorough system.

It currently feels like the only way to stop violations like this happening is for consumers to protest with their pocket; by not purchasing cheap, fast fashion that isn’t ethically consious. As an informed consumer I hope to spead the word and to make people think twice about what they are buying, but I can’t help but feel that it is incredibly difficult to get through to certain people. Especially with current pressures put upon young people, derived from traditional and social media to always look a certain way. It shouldn’t be up to the consumer, it really should be down to the businesses themselves to incorporate morals into their business plan. Seeing though as they are only concerned with money, and in terms of the law, the government should do far more to monitor and audit where our garments are coming from.

We need law that inpliments more frequent auditing, as it seems that currently these audits only happen once a year. A whole year of clothing that violates basic human rights could be produced before it is stopped. Suppliers should be investigated thoroughly for evidence of subcontracting and it’s down to the state to impliment this.

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