Ethical trading in the UK men’s fashion industry

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In the men’s fashion industry, the pace of change is fast and furious. Those that work in the sector grapple with the same issues as any other sector.

Including changes in legislation, working practices, trade deals and taxation, to name but a few.

When it comes to the goods they stock the pace of change is also frenetic. Most fashion retailers have gone from updating their product line four times a year to doing it every 6 weeks or so. They have to keep pace with changing tastes in fashion.  As you can see from Jacamo’s Spring/Summer men’s clothing collection, which consists of nearly 9,000 items this is a mammoth task.

This huge logistical jigsaw puzzle throws up many challenges the first of which is getting each of these thousands of products made in an ethical way. UK retailers have been at the forefront of trying to improve working conditions for those that work in the garment and fashion accessory production sector.

A great example of this is Jacamo, which is part of the N Brown group. This brand signed up for the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) more than a decade ago. They used it as a way to make sure that the clothes that they sold were ethically sourced. The mission of this organisationis to promote respect for worker’s rights across the globe. Their vision is to create a world where workers are free from exploitation and discrimination and able to enjoy conditions of freedom, security and equity.

Members like Jacamo set standards that fit into the framework of ETI’s mission and vision. For example Jacamo requires all of its suppliers and manufacturers to meet the following standards:

  • Employment is freely cho­sen
  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected
  • Working conditions are safe and hygienic
  • Child labourshall not be used
  • Living wages are paid
  • Working hours are not excessive
  • No discrimination is practiced
  • Regular employment is provided
  • No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed

The initiative was started in 1998 by a group of 5 large UK retailers. Today, 90, mostlyUK based, firms are involved in the initiative.

Importantly, this organisationhas teeth. Its members do not just pay lip service to these principles. They actively follow and enforce them. For example, Jacamo regularly checksits suppliers by employing certified audit companies to carry out inspections. Importantly, they also run an internal team that does the same.

In addition, members of the ETI work collaboratively to address issues. This approach has proven to be very effective at pushing change.

Long-term members like N Brown, the owner’s of Jacamo, have been involved with several of these initiatives. Along with other members, they are currently looking at working practiceswithin the Leicester garment industry. As well as working, to end what amounts to bonded labourin parts of India.

Like many members of the ETI scheme N Brown isnow taking things a step further and setting up initiatives independently of the ETI, in addition to contributing to their schemes. For example, they are signatories of the Bangladesh Accord on fire and building safety and are part of the ACT initiativethat is working globally to address the issue of living wages.

It is clear that the ethical trade movement in the UK fashion industry has gained momentum. Today, many firms are actively looking for ways to improve the working conditions of workers across the entire supply chain, from thread manufacture to garment assembly. They are doing so despite the fact there is a financial cost that their businesses need to absorb.  Interestingly, this has happened without the use of binding legislation or intervention from the UK government.

If you want to read more about corporate social responsibility and its impact, you can do so by clicking here.