With Black Friday & Cyber Monday – the largest shopping days in the calendar – having just just been and gone, it really got me thinking about the “behind the scenes” staff of these huge retailers – the warehouse pickers and shelf fillers who make it all possible. Already no stranger to controversy, Black Friday with it’s outrageous discounts and mad dash to get the cheapest deals is only going to stretch these workers further.
There has been lots of controversy recently over a few big brands. Most of my followers know how important I think it is to look at how ethical our consumer choices are, especially when considering brands that export their manufacturing overseas where worker protection laws may not be in place. Yet, I think it’s just as important to highlight the fact that workers aren’t only exploited in Bangladesh – there are problems at home too! And it’s disturbing to see how big brands disrespect UK workers’ rights.
Too often we lull ourselves into a false sense of belief about fashion industry on home soil. Practices in factories and warehouses here must follow our stringent Human Rights Act, right? Sadly, that’s not necessarily the case. It seems some big businesses are willing to compromise their ethics and the law in order to make a profit not just abroad but here as well.
For instance, you might have heard of the Sports Direct story unveiling poor working conditions inside their warehouses. Ian Wright of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee is quoted as saying, “The evidence we heard points to a business whose working practices are closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable High Street retailer.”
Articles from trusted news sources paint a picture of the sweatshop conditions we imagine only happening far away, but this is happening in our own backyards. UK workers rights are not, evidently, being observed. If you missed the headlines, I’m talking about workers being paid less than minimum wage, forced to work long hours without breaks, and humiliated publicly. One employee was heavily penalized for stopping for a sip of water. Another worker possibly even gave give birth in the employee restroom because she feared she’d be fired if she took any time off.
It’s easy to write off Sports Direct as one bad apple in a barrel overflowing with upstanding manufacturers. I certainly hope that is the case. However, you don’t have to look far for more examples of workers being exploited within the UK. Reports dating from just two months ago reveal that big brands like Asos and Amazon treat workers in the UK poorly too. Both are charged with pushing their workers to the point of mental breakdown and physical exhaustion, later firing them for the inconvenience caused by the resulting panic attacks.
It seems the secret to the success of Asos’s fast fashion success isn’t trendy designs but the exploitation of employees pushed to fill unreasonable quotas. Somewhere along the line, these retailers have forgotten that employees are humans who need and deserve rest, compassion and respect. Instead, they are treated like robots, machinery that keeps chugging along. Even machinery needs to be cared for with cleaning and regular maintenance.
Cyber Monday Madness
In very recent developments, a strike is set for today at a Topshop warehouse in The Midlands, in reaction to unsatisfactory wages and unreliable contracts, according to GMB Union. This action will interfere with this busy shopping and distribution period. The warehouse staff seem to be reacting against the disgraced fashion mogul Sir Philip Green, who owns Topshop, and was earlier this year accused of dismal disloyalty towards the longstanding workers at BHS in the wake of it’s closure. When a single person, such as Sir Philip Green, can be identified as showing such flagrant disregard for his staff and those who rely on the employment that his retail empire commands, one would hope that such naming and shaming will be an example to other employers and a springboard for positive change.
Together these big brands create an ugly picture that few would wish to be associated with. Yet, as consumers, it is easy to get swept up in the advertising, forgetting the true cost of our purchasing decisions. Those fast fashion tops and sneakers are a bargain, but what about the ethical and environmental implications? Is another’s mistreatment worth the savings? Categorically no. Besides, we all know that most of this stuff wears out quickly and ends up in our already overextended landfills. That’s why slow fashion is often a better choice all around; seek the Anti-Trend Fashion Brands as a smarter alternative.
Making ethical purchases this Christmas
In light of these breaking stories, it is now more important than ever that we become conscious of the manufacturing processes and human rights issues associated with our favourite brands. It’s something for us all to consider when buying Christmas presents for loved ones. This year, I am going to look far beyond the brand names and price tags to ensure every choice is a good one. I suggest you do too.
In fact, this is a topic I am passionate about not just during the holidays, but all year round. It’s one of the reasons we work so hard to maintain a transparent supply chain. You can demonstrate that you care too by exclusively supporting responsible brands that don’t exploit their workers, neither at home nor abroad. Support UK workers rights.