New Study Shows Fashion's Reliance On Slave Labor

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Here's a weird, semi-unfamiliar thought for the modern consumer: That shirt you are wearing, that dress you are coveting, at one point, was growing in the ground. Then, someone came along and picked the cotton, sheared the wool, or tanned the leather you are wearing. After that, a worker took the raw materials, spun them into thread, and cut or trimmed them into some previously determined shape. That garment you are wearing, it appears, has had a mighty rich life so far.

As consumers become increasingly aware of products that are fair-trade or locally sourced (the number of fair-trade certified companies grew 75% last year), Not For Sale tracks the labor chain, from the raw materials to the cut and sewing work to the rights with which workers are endowed, giving each one of the 300 companies surveyed a letter grade. And, dear readers, the big picture is not looking great.

The larger view, which takes every part of the process (from the growing to the making to the selling) into consideration, is bleak: Only a handful of companies received an "A." Factors included the traceability of materials, the watchdog efforts implemented for workers, training, usage of child labor (which is, sadly, still a thing), and minimum wages.

Those who received high marks included Inditex (Zara's parent company), Maggie's Organics, Hanes, and Timberland, coming in clean with an A. Yet, it's the low-rated brands that worry us, with Lacoste, Spiewak, WalMart, and Skechers all ranking at a D or F.

Yet, the report supplies broken down reasons for each of their rankings, highlighting where certain labels excel or need a serious rethink. For instance, both Gap and H&M received a decent B, because of their refusal to use child labor and its emphasis on factory worker's rights, while both brands were penalized for not sourcing raw materials from worker-owned farms. Similarly, Lacoste fails across the board, not addressing labor policies like condition standards, age restrictions, and collective, while WalMart does but doesn't adhere to living wages for its workers.

The bottom line is that, with increasing global awareness about the way consumers spend their money, it is becoming increasingly important for companies to be aware of who makes their clothing, and more importantly, in what conditions it is manufactured. In 2012, with child labor so exposed and derided, it's both tragic and unsurprising that companies and producers are even a part of this discussion. (Not For Sale)

Photo: Via Not For Sale