Should we be buying clothes made in LEDC factories? By maria afonina, Liberty Wright and Ayshe-mira Yashin

This is a very important question for us to consider because it affects a large number of people and hundreds of organisations and companies. This is because many companies manufacture their products in LEDC factories around the world, although we are able to research the ethical policy of a company it is difficult to discover exactly where a product is made, and whether it is made in safe conditions where it's workers are paid a fair amount. Millions of people around the world live in extreme poverty and work in factories for large brands where they are mistreated and underpaid. However we often take advantage of these people's poverty because it gives us the opportunity to buy products at a cheap price. But should we be doing so?

Viewing this question from an economic point of view then it seems like buying clothes made by cheap labour forces in less economically developed countries is a good idea and should be continued. The company and the consumers benefit the most out of it. The company manages to save money by paying their workers a minimum wage and the consumers enjoy a low price for their products as a result. However the situation looks a lot worse from a worker's perspective who earns a very small amount of money for a very large amount of work, this is a lifestyle that is relevant to the vast majority of workers who are being paid under the minimum wage. Unfortunately, we as consumers love a good bargain when buying our clothes and so we buy more of them for less money. This means the demand for cheaply manufactured clothing increases and puts more pressure on the workers in LEDC countries.

Unfortunately, the majority of clothing manufacturers and companies are not worried about being environmentally friendly and producing harmful emissions that may damage the environment around us, this is because businesses value economic factors more that environmental or social ones, this is because a company's main goal is to make money. However in the production of clothing a company may be concerned about some of the areas of production; for example: the amount of coloured dye or cotton used to make a pair of jeans. The main concern is how much fabric is wasted when cutting out the designs for the jeans, most companies claim to use 93% of the fabric, thus producing only 7% waste.

It is difficult to find exactly one place on a map where a pair of jeans is manufactured; because as we learned from researching where a can of Coca-Cola is made, we discovered that the metal for the can is sourced from one country, the chemicals from the other, the can mould from yet another and e.t.c The same applies to the production of jeans. The cotton is farmed in one place, blended together in another, spun in a different one, dyed in yet a different factory, cut out in another, assembled in a different one, and finally shipped to department stores all over the world. Of course not all companies have their factories in different places but the majority do and the shipping fees are ginormous. Not to mention the amount of pollution that is produced from one journey.

Although almost every country has an ethical policy which is approved of by the government and various other societies, there is strong evidence that the rules stated by these policies are not in practised in LEDC factories. This is mainly through the form of of workers being abused physically and verbally by their managers for minute reasons, such as not working fast enough or producing minor mistakes. Although companies may not be aware of this, they avoid doing anything to resolve these issues because they are still gaining their money. Despite the long working hours, bad working conditions and low pay, the workers are to afraid to protest in fear of losing their jobs because they have no other job options and they need a form of income to support their families, pay rent, buy food and other necessities. There is a very unequal balance between the companies and workers, but this difference is an extremely difficult one to resolve.

To help us understand the inequalities between workers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers we can look at the various different stakeholders who are involved in making an item of clothing, for example a pair of branded Superdry jeans.

Firstly, cotton is needed to make the jeans; it needs to be planted, grown and harvested. However, only 40% of the collected cotton is cotton fibre (the type of material that is needed to make the jeans). This means that the cotton needs to be separated, it is sent to another factory to be separated. After that process is finished the cotton is sent to another factory where it is blended together to make it consistent, the cotton thread is then spun to make the fabric for the jeans. Jeans have a distinctive blue colour, however they are not naturally that colour. The fabric needs to be dyed to achieve the correct shade of blue which is unique to denim jeans; it is at first dyed yellow, because when the fabric comes into contact with air it turns blue. The first half of the manufacturing process is complete, the fabric is made and is ready to be cut and sewn.

The material is sent to yet another factory where the fabric is assembled and sewn, the jeans are also thoroughly ironed after they have been put together. A brand new pair of jeans is now complete! But, nowadays no one wants to wear ‘brand new’ jeans, everyone is looking for the trendy old and worn jeans look. So the jeans are thrown into a dryer, along with kilograms of rocks and are spun to achieve the distressed look. After this the jeans are branded with the Superdry label and shipped to their department stores where consumers can buy and wear them.

As you can see there are hundreds of people involved in the making of a pair of jeans. All of them have different responsibilites, but how is each stakeholder responsible for the conditions in which the jeans are made?

Cotton farmers - They make the cotton. They often make the decision to work for these companies - however, it is likely that they don't have a choice and also possible that they don't know about the conditions of some of the other workers. They are also often underpaid.

Cotton mill owners - They also help make the cotton. Like farmers, they are agreeing to work for these companies, but it is likely that they don't have a choice and possible that they don't know what they're signing up for. They may also be underpaid.

Factory owners - They often mistreat workers. They usually don't do as much as they could to try to improve the conditions in the factory. They ensure unfair working hours and underpays workers, however they don't have much of a choice because they are underpaid and critisized by the companies that they work for.

Factory workers - They don't have a choice as to where they can work. They are often abused, underpaid and are forced to work in terrible conditions which are bad for their health and safety. However, they have very little power in the matter, because although they are (in some ways) the most important people in the retail industry they can be easily exploited and are insignificant to the higher powers.

Shop owners - They make the decision of underpaying all of their workers in order for prices to be lower and for the company (themselves) to make more money. They don't take enough action to make working conditions better, but claim to “try” to.

Shop workers - They could be demonstrating or trying to get in touch with managers, but most of them aren't because they are afraid of loosing their jobs and living on the streets. There have been some cases of workers trying to reach out to consumers for help by writing letters in the clothing items they are producing. These cases blow up in the news and media but companies often dismiss them as accidents or mistakes, and then they are forgotten.

People who advertise clothes - They do not let people know what goes on behind the scenes in these companies as they just want the companies to earn money. However, this is not their choice as they earn money from the managers of the companies, so they have to do what they say, which is to get their clothes to sell more.

People who buy clothes - They should research ethical policies of companies (however it is often hard to find accurate information). If we find out a company we like the clothes of has ethics that we do not agree with, we should stop financially supporting them. We should demonstrate and fight for people who are unable to do so themselves - if many people and the press fought for better conditions in the factories we buy clothes from (instead of being selfish and buying things just because they look nice) the companies would gradually be forced to change their ways.

Many companies take advantage of a countries poverty and use it to manufacture their products, which turns many of their factories into sweatshops. Some companies pay so little that factory owners cannot afford to keep up good conditions in the factories, this means that the factories are very dangerous to work in. However, some factory owners may take too much money out of the pay to the factory and then not keep up the conditions in the factory. In sweatshops workers are often abused and overworked for minuscule pay, some workers will even sleep on the factory floor because they cannot afford a place to stay. Sadly, not only adults are affected by the terrible conditions in sweatshops.

In the world, 59 million children aged 5-17 are involved with hazardous work. Many companies still use child labour, for example: H&M, Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Apple, Disney, Forever 21 and Nike, to name just a few. Some of the countries with the most child labour are Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, India and Bangladesh. These are some of the countries in which most sweatshops are. Most of the child labour is illegal (for example: in Turkey child labour is illegal for Turkish citizens but many Syrian refugee children who are not Turkish citizens are involved with child labour). Not only do the sweatshops and the child labour help companies sell their products for a cheaper price and allow them to keep the larger percent of the income. There is also the illegal black market trading of goods. This is a market that is disconnected from the government and doesn't pay taxes. It is usually secretive, selling illegal products, often for a cheaper price. Big companies may be using black markets to get dyes or fabric for their clothing. It is hard to know which countries use these as they are very secretive about it.

We were rather puzzled as to how companies could allow workers to be paid such little amounts and work for long hourse in very poor conditions while being abused and still get away with doing so, and make a profit at the same time! So, we decided to research the ethical policy of Superdry, a well known comany which has overtaken the fashion industry and proved itself to be an 'indestructible superhero' on the high street. It has a unique range of clothes which are unisex, ubiquitous yet anonymous; sporty yet not technical; designed but not designer.

The label has consistently outperformed the competition. No one can sit with it. It added 18 UK stores last year, taking the total to 60 stores. A further 44 franchised stores were opened abroad last year alone, taking the total to 80. It is the label most likely to be worn by a celebrity carrying a Starbucks: David Beckham, Justin Bieber, Helena Christensen, Kristen Stewart, as well as celebrities it is a fashion brand much loved by teenagers, especially girls. However it is very expensive, but does this mean that it is fairly distributing the money between all stakeholders, ensuring that its workers are fairly treated and making sure that it leaves a healthy carbon footprint?

Ethical policy of superdry:

The global nature of a clothing company has a significant impact upon different communities, the natural environment worldwide and the consumers. Superdry states that its objective is ‘to ensure that this impact is as positive as possible.’ They believe that being a responsible business means:

- Finding ways of achieving ambitious business growth whilst simultaneously having a positive impact on people and the planet

- Ensuring that their customers can buy Superdry product with confidence that they’ve acted with integrity in creating it

Superdry states that its Corporate Responsibility program is designed to:

- Respect workers in the supply chain

- Drive environmental sustainability improvements

- Support the communities Superdry interacts with

- Ensuring the welfare of employees

Superdry claims that it continues to focus effort on improving safety and fairness for all workers in the factories that manufacture Superdry products. They believe that they have a responsibility to ensure that suppliers comply with local and international legislation and recognised standards of best practice. The company claims that all of their suppliers are required to acknowledge in writing the Superdry Ethical Trading Code of Practice (however the contents of this code are not stated on their website, or anywhere else on the internet). Based on the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Code sets out the minimum standards expected from suppliers and their employees. The Group regularly undertakes audits and reviews of factory performance against the Code and works with suppliers to improve working conditions.

After reading this policy, one would believe that Superdry is a trustworthy company which ensures that all of their workers are respected, paid well and work in a safe environment as well as making sure that their products are environmentally friendly so that their customers can buy Superdry products with confidence that they’ve acted with integrity in creating it. But how can we trust this statement, and how can we ensure that it is true?

Sadly, we can't, or ir is virtually impossible to. This is because companies are willing to pay huge amounts of money to ensure that their dark secrets remain safe and that the public never discover them so that the reputation of the company remains high, so that its products are regularly bought and worn.

It is not fair that poor workers have to fulfill the demands of larger and richer companies, and have to suffer abuse and receive very low wages. The production of clothes in LEDCs helps manufacturers save money, this is the only constructive effect of the process, the issues by far outweigh the positives. Money is saved in the process but it is not ethical for MEDCs to receive a bargain at an underprivileged person’s expense. The issue is an almost impossible one to solve because the manufacturers cannot do much to improve the situation. If they move their factories to more economically developed countries then they would have to pay a huge sum of money as well as invest in better quality machinery and higher factory conditions, so that they meet the standard regulations in MEDCs. The workers would also have to be paid a higher wage and there would be less workers available so the production of clothes would be slower. Therefore a company would have to either raise the prices of their products to ensure that their earnings are kept high, but then the consumers would end up paying more (which they may not be able to do and would not be eager to do). Or the company would have to simply earn less money which is an unlikely option for a business. The largest downside to moving the factories would be that thousands of jobs would be taken away from the workers who heavily rely on them, they would loose the little income they receive that is vital for their lives.

In conclusion we think we should be buying clothes in LEDCs, despite the fact that the manufacturing business is an extremely unfair one, where the workers receive very little pay and the companies make a huge profit, however there is little that can be done about it. The situation would be worsened if the factories were moved to MEDCs and the only other option to improve the industry would be to pay the workers more money and invest in better working conditions, but this is a job that costs lots of money which nobody is willing to spend, so the situation remains immoral and unjust.

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