There Might Be A Darker Story Behind Cheap Clothes Than You Realise
Lidl are selling jeans for £5.99, but how?
We all know Lidl are no stranger to a bargain, last weekend though they launched possibly their most notable one yet, jeans for as little £5.99. With even Primark only getting as low as £8, this is a pretty impressive price point.
Less impressive, as revealed by The Guardian, is why this price is so low. Lidl don’t have a team of crack scientists discovering magical new ways of making cheap jeans in some lab somewhere. What they do have though is a team of mostly young women in Bangladesh making jeans for possibly as little as 2p per pair.
Legal minimum wage in Bangladesh (where the jeans are made) is 23p an hour with recent figures from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights finding some factories like those used by Lidl producing, for example, 250 pairs of jeans an hour between 25 workers. That puts the money made by each worker per pair, The Guardian estimates, at somewhere between 2p and 9p. £5.99 maybe doesn’t seem like such a bargain now.
Think your job sucks? Imagine being too afraid to complain about working in conditions hazardous to your health for fear of losing less than 25p an hour. Imagine being forced to take birth control so as to avoid costing your employer money on maternity cover. Imagine being less than 10 years old and working longer hours than most adults. These are all very real situations that millions of people around the world in countries such as India, Cambodia and Sierra Leone find themselves in every day.
Lidl aren’t the only company supporting this kind of economy either. According the recent 'Behind the barcode' report by Baptist World Aid last year, 91% of the 219 major fashion brands they looked at don’t know where their cotton is coming from, over 85% aren’t paying their workers enough to meet basic needs and 48% haven’t even traced the source of their clothing.
In a world where people are increasingly conscious about the story behind their purchases, with choices on what food, make-up and other products we buy often largely influenced by seals of approval from organisations such as Fair Trade, why is it that clothing is so far behind?
Ethical clothing campaigners Fashion Revolution are asking this very question and encouraging people to think before they purchase cheap clothing about why it’s so cheap. They’re encouraging people to take to social media and other platforms to ask brands ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ in the hope that it will encourage more transparency from brands as well as more consideration on the part of shoppers when making purchases.
Being considerate of the source of your clothes doesn’t have to mean you’re spending a whole heap more money either. Admittedly, you’ll probably struggle to find a pair of jeans for £5.99 that are entirely ethically sourced but there are a number of reasonably priced clothing brands that support developing economies without relying on poor and often dangerous working conditions to keep their price down.
H&M, for example, recently launched H&M Conscious, a range which pledges to strengthen the communities it outsources too by implementing fair living wages in their huge network of factories. Fat Face’s companywide Code of Conduct ensures all factories they use treat their workers fairly. And New Balance has a team or employees who routinely perform checks on their suppliers.
If in doubt, Baptist World Aid put together the following handy grading system (as of April last year) for a number of clothing companies “to empower you to make everyday ethical purchasing decisions”. You can find out more on this grading, here.
So next time you’re out shopping and spot a bargain, just stop and think. At what cost…?