What makes a brand ethical?
What actually makes a brand ethical?
This is a question as old as time. Well, probably not, but it’s definitely just as complicated. Like you and your high school best friend, the terms “ethical” and “sustainable” seem to be joined at the hip, and although they intertwine and complement each other greatly, the actual meanings behind the respective words differ.
To be sustainable means to be “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level” (thank you, Google). However, to be ethical means to “relate to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these”. Basically, it’s one thing for a company to portray their ethics in all of their advertising, but it’s another for them to actually walk the moral walk a lot of them talk. We don’t know about you, but we don’t want to be catfished by a company on their ethics.
Let’s talk about the implementation of ethics in terms of ethical fashion. For “ethical” to be put in front of the word “fashion”, the company using the term must be doing everything in their power to craft a fair, ethical, transparent supply chain. Perhaps the most prominent methods of implementing ethics into their supply chain are the way in which they treat the garment workers who make their clothes. By treat we don’t just mean their treatment in the workplace, we’re talking about the whole shebang including the conditions the employees work in and, of course, the pay and benefits they receive.
The What She Makes report released by Oxfam states that, in 2016, the annual turnover in the Australian garment industry alone was $27 billion. Despite this, companies are still choosing to participate in the abuse, exploitation, and neglect of garment workers—abuse, exploitation, and neglect that came to a completely avoidable and catastrophic head in the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy. If not working for a company for which ethics in business are a necessity, garment workers in Indonesia get paid a pathetic sixty-two cents (AUD) an hour. Considering that “just 2% of the retail price ends up in workers’ pockets”, we don’t think there’s anything ethical about that fact.
A lot of people seem to agree with us, too. More and more people are starting to—excuse our French—give a shit, about ethics and sustainability in today’s society, which is a massive step in the right direction (go us). More companies are making the move to a more ethical way of producing, though with any success comes a window of opportunity for others to mimic or take advantage of this window—need we remind you of the whole Kmart/Veja situation? Aside from plastic and Christmas albums, what is rife in this day and age is greenwashing, which is why we all need to be on the lookout for those pesky companies who say they’re something they actually are not. See: catfishing.
If a clothing company—or any company—claims to be ethical, you can be sure that that company will be as transparent as possible. Transparency can come in many different forms, and companies can show it in a few different ways. Some will publish everything on their website, others will pop up the lists of certification organisations when you type their name into Google, and a few will even go as far as releasing the lowest wage they pay their employees. If they’ve got nothing to hide they won’t hide anything, right?
So, what actually makes a brand ethical? If a company operates with ethics at the core of its operations, you can be sure they’ll want you to know about it. It’ll be on their website, it’ll be there when you type their name into Google, and it’ll probably be in our ethical brand directory. By supporting and purchasing from these forward-thinking, heart-driven companies you are helping to ensure that there remains an “ethical” in front of the word “fashion”. Keep fighting the good fight you fabulous human, ‘cause you don’t realise how big of a difference you are actually making.