Is it Possible for Fast Fashion to Be Ethical?

That (most) fast fashion companies now seem to (sort of) care about the people making their clothing is a development we should all be happy about, but a recent story from Quartz argues that ethical deviance is essentially baked into the sub-industry’s DNA, limiting any change that’s actually possible.

Citing a new Ethical Trading Initiative report, the (exhaustive) story posits that “the model of producing giant volumes of clothing at the highest speed and lowest cost, through a flexible and opaque global supply chain, has been a key contributor to the hazardous conditions, labor abuses, and low wages that workers face in the industry.”

In other words, the problems that the industry is trying to solve only exist because the industry needs them to thrive, which means that all regulatory measures currently in place are “effectively treating symptoms rather than the disease.”

The symptoms — criminally long hours, low wages, physical and verbal abuse, poor accountability structures — aren’t new, unfortunately, and the disease is one rooted in consumer expectation: we want more things that cost less, and we want those things instantaneously.

As the report found, “low purchase prices and shorter times for manufacturing products, coupled with poor forecasting, unfair penalties, and poor payment terms, exacerbate risks for labor abuses in factories.”

And it’s not like companies can just stop doing what they’re doing, either: there’s no large-scale market demand asking the industry to raise the price of clothing or to slow down the production schedule.

Instead, “intense pressure to keep prices low and churn out clothes quickly pushes the suppliers themselves to outsource work,” the story said, “and the brand at one end of the supply chain can lose control over what’s happening at the other end,” making supply chain accountability nearly impossible.

So, despite “pledges to better regulate their supply chains, and despite the customer outcry they face every time they get bad press, well-known multinational labels continue to have their garments turn up at factories accused of abusing workers.”

“To really make sure workers aren’t routinely exploited in countries around the world, individual fixes won’t solve the problem. The whole business model needs to change.”

You can read more about it at Quartz.

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