Whilst the world of fashion and ethical consumerism rarely go hand in hand, I am still shocked to hear of Burberry burning £28m worth of clothes and accessories, all to protect its brand image.
Burning clothes, while the ethically and environmentally conscious among us are trying to re-use, recycle and never throw clothes into landfill. Well, OK, so I guess we’re not being encouraged into this behaviour by the fashion brands themselves, for fast fashion relies on a throwaway society. Cheap clothes, which no-one loves or cares for, which are simply discarded when they go out of fashion or the wearer gets bored.
What upsets me more than even the environmental impact of this, is the efforts that went into making these clothes – and those efforts were likely not fairly rewarded. Can this level of destruction be justified simply to destroy counterfeiting or cheapening the brand?
A report published by the Clean Clothes Campaign in November 2017, ‘Europe’s Sweatshops’, found that Burberry had sourced garments and/or footwear from one or more countries in Eastern Europe where workers rights were often ignored. Sourcing garments from Serbia allowed Burberry to use the label, ‘Made in Europe’ which consumers may have equated with fairer working practices. However, the research found that in Serbia the minimum wage was often not paid and was well below an acceptable level. Interviews with garment workers in Serbia also unearthed intolerable conditions, including having to work in temperatures of up to 30 degrees without air conditioning, and being threatened with the sack if they complained about their working conditions.
Furthermore, in June 2017, Ethical Consumer uncovered that Burberry were sourcing much of their cotton from Uzbekistan, where half of all cotton picked is by forced child labour. The company had signed the Responsible Sourcing Network’s Pledge Against Forced Child Labour in the Uzbek Cotton Sector, but made no mention on its website of how it communicated this policy to suppliers and ensured they followed it.
The other huge issue with Uzbek cotton, was the complete devastation of the Aral Sea, shown with aerial photographs from NASA in 2014 to have been completely dried up by the water intensive cotton. Non-organic cotton is extremely unsustainable – huge amounts of water and pesticides lead to environmental devastation.
So, just how much profit is Burberry making if they can afford to do this? And how many other retailers are doing the same. If they put into place a better stock management system, perhaps they could pay their garment makers a fair wage and give them access to basic human rights whilst at work.
Maybe this shines a huge light on the big, expensive brands in the fashion industry. Those which can only be afforded by the rich and famous. Should they be so exclusive and unobtainable, if it’s going to bear such a huge cost to the environment and the lives and well-being of those who actually make the clothes in the first place?
If the answer is yes, then these brands need to be accountable. Less stock should be held in warehouses and reserves, better management of stock should be enforced and companies should be forced to sign up to provide ethical working conditions and have plans in place for what to do with excess stock that do not involve the destruction of goods.
This is an issue of first world greed and entitlement which is spilling over and affecting those simply trying to make a living, who could not dream of ever affording the product they are making (and probably don’t have a desire for it) as well as causing environmental chaos.
For now, the best we can do is campaign for change and keep supporting ethical, environmentally and socially conscious brands such as People Tree, Nomads, Komodo, and We Are Thought; to name but a few.
Fast fashion is running off the tracks, and someone needs to apply the brakes.